Many Louisiana residents are aware of an unusual case in which a man who has been held in solitary confinement for 43 years may be released in the coming days. The case has led to a great deal of debate around the issue of prison reform, and many are heralding a judge’s order to release the now 68-year-old prisoner as a human rights win. The matter remains unresolved, however, as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit has issued a temporary stay that will keep him behind bars for at least a few more days. It is unclear what type of representation the man has as he waits to see what the future may hold for him.
The man was initially tried and convicted for armed robbery and sentenced to a term in the Louisiana State Penitentiary. While there, he and several other men organized a group of inmates into a chapter of the Black Panthers, and they pushed for prison reform. In 1972, a prison guard was murdered at that facility. The three men were accused of that crime and placed in solitary confinement; one man remains there today.
The man went to trial for murder, and he was convicted. That conviction was overturned, and a second trial yielded the same result. In a recent decision, it was determined that the second trial was also flawed, which led to the order for the man to be released. However, the state would like to try him yet another time. While that has been barred by the recent court order, the state can certainly appeal that decision.
The recently issued stay means that the prisoner will remain in place for at least a few more days. That action was completed in order to give the state time to file its appeal, at which time they can ask that the prisoner remain behind bars. Should that appeal move forward, the man could be facing another 20 years behind bars, as the court examines whether he can be convicted a third time. In the meantime, it is not clear whether he has secured legal representation or if that process will begin only if the state is granted a third trial.
Source: Los Angeles Times, “Court blocks order to free Albert Woodfox, who’s spent 43 years in solitary confinement“, Ryan Parker, June 9, 2015