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By Lauren McGaughy, NOLA.com | The Times Picayune
September 18, 2013
September 18, 2013
A federal magistrate judge in Louisiana recommended Friday that Herman Wallace, a terminally ill inmate and member of "The Angola Three," should not have his case revisited.
Wallace had previously filed a writ of habeas corpus petition, which said he did not receive a fair trial in the 1972 murder of Angola prison guard Brent Miller and was therefore being held illegally by the state. Since his conviction for the murder, he's spent 41 years behind bars, all of them in solitary confinement.
But U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephen Riedlinger disagreed, issuing an opinion Friday that recommended the federal district judge deny the writ and ensure Wallace remain incarcerated.
Herman Wallace, 71, has been living with advanced liver cancer at Elayn Hunt Correctional Facility since his diagnosis in June 2013.
Nick Trenticosta, Wallace's lawyer, expressed disappointment with the opinion and said the system was fixed to ensure barriers between an inmate and his possible release are nearly impossible to surpass.
"We are shocked that the Magistrate Judge failed to appreciate the rank unfairness of Mr. Wallace's trial. Mr. Wallace is absolutely innocent of the murder," Trenticosta said Wednesday."We will be challenging the magistrate's recommendation to (U.S. District Court) Judge (Brian A.) Jackson, and are confident we will prevail."
In the writ, Trenticosta said Wallace failed to receive a fair trial in 1972 due to an all-white, all-male jury and the withholding of key evidence by prosecutors. The key witness against Wallace in the trial, another inmate, was also promised concessions in exchange for his testimony, the writ said.
Trenticosta, who is based in New Orleans and has also acted as counsel for the other members of the Angola Three, said the next step is to lodge their complaints with the opinion with Judge Jackson and hope he issues a favorable ruling in response.
As the judge hearing the writ petition, Jackson also has the ability to approve Wallace's release on bail. But time is an especially important factor in his case, said Trenticosta, due to Wallace's medical condition."I don't know how long he's going to make it," Trenticosta said. "It may be another month, it may be another week."
In a letter sent to his supporters last month, Wallace confirmed he had been diagnosed with liver cancer and was told he had about two months to live. He had also been released from solitary confinement and now lives in the prison's hospital wing in a private room.
The move is a small, but important, change for Wallace, who has spent 41 years in solitary confinement in Louisiana's prisons. Wallace and Woodfox, both implicated in Miller's savage stabbing murder in 1972, both insist on their innocence and say their conviction came solely as a result of their involvement with the Black Panther movement.Both men had been key in forming the first local chapter of the Black Panthers at Louisiana State Penitentiary, or Angola, and advocating against the culture of violence and rape pervasive there at the time.
After the murder and their convictions, they were placed in solitary. A third inmate, Robert King Wilkerson, was later tangentially tied to the murder even though he was not an inmate an Angola at the time. He was also placed in solitary confinement.
Together they came to be known as "The Angola Three" after a fellow Black Panther member was the first to discover their decades in isolation in the late 1990s. King was released with the help of inmate rights activists in 2001 after 29 years.
Woodfox remains in solitary to this day and is currently seeking a restraining order against the state for daily strip and cavity searches he undergoes at David Wade Correctional Center in Homer.
Lauren McGaughy is a state politics reporter based in Baton Rouge. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @lmcgaughy.
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