NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) - Albert Woodfox was released from a Louisiana prison Friday afternoon after spending 43 years in solitary confinement.
Woodfox was kept in solitary confinement at Louisiana State Penitentiary following the 1972 murder of prison guard Brent Miller. He always declared his innocence. On Friday, Woodfox entered a no contest plea to manslaughter and aggravated burglary. The no contest plea is not an admission of guilt.
"Although I was looking forward to proving my innocence at a new trial, concerns about my health and my age have caused me to resolve this case," he said.
Woodfox and Herman Wallace were convicted in 1973 of killing Miller. A third inmate, Robert King, was linked to Miller's death but never charged.
The men were referred to as the "Angola 3." They subscribed to the Black Panther movement and campaigned against segregation in the 1970s. Prison officials say Woodfox and the two other men were kept in solitary confinement because of their Black Panther Party ties.
Upon his release from West Feliciana Parish Detention Center Friday afternoon, Woodfox told reporters "I need to go say goodbye to my mother. I wasn't allowed to go to her funeral when I was in Angola. My sister's as well."
Woodfox turned 69 on Friday.
Not everyone is happy
Samuel D'Aquilla, district attorney for Louisiana's West Feliciana Parish, told CNN that he was "not really in agreement" with the decision to release Albert Woodfox, but said "it was probably the best thing to do," given the difficulties posed by a new trial.
"A lot of the witnesses (from Woodfox's 1973 murder trial) are now dead," he said. "I'd like to say for the record, he is a murderer. He was convicted twice by juries and those convictions were overturned both times on technicalities."
A long fight
The National Religious Campaign Against Torture along with countless national and international human rights organizations had called for Woodfox’s release for many years. On Friday Rev. Ron Stief, executive director of NRCAT released the following statement:
“Tragically most do not leave solitary confinement with this level of support or attention. As we witness this remarkable development, we remember that each year in the United States, thousands of people are released directly from prolonged solitary confinement to our communities with no means of grappling with the psychological, social and physical trauma this immoral treatment has caused.
"With this news, faith communities nationwide recommit to standing for human rights and calling for the United States to embrace the moral courage to end the practice of long-term solitary confinement."
King was freed after his conviction in the killing of a fellow inmate was overturned in 2001.
The same went for Herman Wallace, who was released in 2013 after a judge vacated his murder conviction and sentence. He only experienced a few days of freedom; he was suffering from terminal liver cancer and died just days later.
The Angola 3 case spurred the creation of the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3 and drew the United Nations into the fray. Several U.S. lawmakers have pointed to the case as a sign that reforms are needed in Louisiana's prison system. Even Teenie Rogers, the widow of slain prison guard Miller, has said she thinks the men are innocent.
Their plight has also spawned at least three documentaries, including "Angola 3: Black Panthers and the Last Slave Plantation," "Herman's House" and "In the Land of the Free... ," narrated by actor Samuel L. Jackson.
Last month President Barack Obama used his executive powers to ban solitary confinement for juveniles in all federal prisons. He has also commissioned a review of the use of solitary confinement in the United States prison system.