The last of the "Angola 3" was ordered released from prison Friday after spending 43 years in solitary confinement for a homicide he says he never played a role in.
Albert Woodfox was ordered released for time served after pleading no contest to manslaughter and aggravated burglary. The decision came on the same day as his 69th birthday.
Woodfox had been incarcerated on suspicion of murder in the 1972 stabbing death of a guard at Louisiana State Penitentiary, which is commonly referred to as Angola. No other inmate in the U.S. is believed to have served more time in solitary confinement than Woodfox.
In a statement issued by his legal team, Woodfox thanked his attorneys and civil rights advocates who worked for years to secure his release:
I want to thank my brother Michel for sticking with me all these years, and Robert King, who wrongly spent nearly 30 years in solitary. I could not have survived without their courageous support, along with the support of my dear friend Herman Wallace, who passed away in 2013.
I also wish to thank the many members of the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3, Amnesty International, and the Roddick Foundation, all of whom supported me through this long struggle. Lastly, I thank William Sothern, Rob McDuff and my lawyers at Squire Patton Boggs and Sanford Heisler Kimpel for never giving up.
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 now and obtain my release with this no-contest plea to lesser charges. I hope the events of today will bring closure to many."
He appeared poised for freedom last year after a federal judge in Baton Rouge not only ordered his release, but took the additional measure of preventing prosecutors from attempting a third murder trial.
However, his release was blocked after a federal judge granted Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell's request for an emergency stay, setting the stage for Friday's ruling.
Woodfox has always maintained his innocence, claiming he was framed in order to prevent his activism with the Black Panther Party chapter inside the penitentiary.
"Albert survived the extreme and cruel punishment of 40-plus years in solitary confinement only because of his extraordinary strength and character," George Kendall, an attorney the defense team, said in a statement. "These inhumane practices must stop."
Woodfox and the two other men held in solitary confinement — Robert King and Herman Wallace — became known as the Angola 3 because of the prison's proximity to a former slave plantation by the same name.
King and Wallace were released in 2001 and 2013, respectively. Wallace died shortly after his release pending a new trial. King’s conviction was overturned.
Woodfox was expected to be released Friday afternoon, his attorneys said.