27 November 2015

Vindictive Retrial of Former Black Panther

Albert Woodfox Is Innocent—Free Him Now!

(Class-Struggle Defense Notes)

On November 9, the federal Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the state of Louisiana could try class-war prisoner Albert Woodfox a third time for the 1972 murder of a Louisiana prison guard. The court also gave the state the green light to keep the 68-year-old Woodfox locked up while his judicial railroading drags on. Woodfox was falsely convicted as part of a racist vendetta against him due to his political activities within Angola prison and then spent 43 years in solitary confinement, the longest stint of any prisoner in the U.S. His conviction has been overturned twice because of prosecutorial misconduct and racist grand jury rigging. Today, even according to bourgeois legal standards, Woodfox stands innocent of murder. Yet the state continues to imprison Woodfox—who suffers from heart disease, renal failure and hepatitis C—aiming to ensure that he dies in prison.

In June, after Woodfox was indicted a third time on the same trumped-up murder charge, District Court judge James Brady barred the state from retrying him. Brady cited the fact that Woodfox could not possibly receive a fair trial and ordered his immediate and unconditional release. Louisiana attorney general James Caldwell appealed that decision and now, in a two-to-one decision, the appeals panel has overturned Brady’s ruling and allowed for yet another bogus trial to go forward. The dissenting judge declared, “If ever a case justifiably could be considered to present ‘exceptional circumstance’ barring reprosecution, this is that case.”

It was 1971 when Woodfox was first sent to Angola prison, which fittingly sits on the site of a former slave plantation. There, he and fellow inmates Herman Wallace and Robert King started a Black Panther Party chapter and organized inmate work stoppages and protests. That put them in the crosshairs of their jailers. In 1972, Woodfox and Wallace were framed up for the fatal stabbing of prison guard Brent Miller. A year later, King was falsely convicted of killing a fellow inmate. The men, known as the Angola Three, fought their convictions for over four decades. Wallace was finally freed in 2013, only to die of liver cancer three days after his release. King, who was released in 2001, has since been prominent in the fight to free Woodfox. So transparent was the frame-up that Miller’s widow, Leontine Rogers, believes Woodfox to be innocent and has joined the calls to release him.

There has never been one shred of physical evidence implicating Woodfox in Miller’s killing. Only now will a bloody fingerprint found at the scene of the murder, which did not match any of the Angola Three, be tested against all of the inmates in Angola at that time—and only because Woodfox’s attorneys successfully fought for it. Likewise, DNA testing will now for the first time be performed on the knife allegedly used in the killing.

For this third trial of Woodfox, the state has already engaged in its usual frame-up machinations. Since all four supposed eyewitnesses to the murder have since died, a state judge ruled in September that their prior testimony will be read to the jury by stand-ins. Woodfox’s lawyers will thus be unable to cross-examine witnesses to challenge their credibility—a denial of the basic right of the accused to confront his accusers. That goes particularly for the government’s key witness, the late Hezekiah Brown, without whose testimony the state has admitted it would not even have a case. After the first trial, it came out that Brown’s testimony had been coerced by prison authorities, who threatened him with solitary confinement while dangling before him the promise of a pardon.

Woodfox should not spend another moment behind prison walls. In an August 25 letter to the Partisan Defense Committee, Woodfox evoked the 23-hour lockdowns that he was being forced to endure, declaring: “The persecution by the state of Louisiana goes on! But as ever, I remain strong and determined.... I will not break!”

We reiterate our call for Woodfox’s immediate freedom and encourage our supporters to take up his cause and write to Albert Woodfox #72148, West Feliciana Parish Detention Center, PO Box 2727, St. Francisville, LA 70775.

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(reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 1079, 27 November 2015)

Workers Vanguard is the newspaper of the Spartacist League with which the Partisan Defense Committee is affiliated.