NEW ORLEANS — Louisiana can keep "Angola Three" inmate Albert Woodfox in jail and continue its plans to try him a third time in the 1972 killing of a prison guard, a federal appeals court ruled Monday.
The 2-1 decision by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reverses a June order by U.S. District Judge James Brady that ordered Woodfox's release. And the judge had barred a third trial, saying the state could not try Woodfox fairly more than 40 years after the killing of guard Brent Miller.
The 5th Circuit disagreed.
"The district court abused its discretion by barring retrial and by granting the extraordinary remedy of an unconditional writ," Judge Carolyn Dineen King wrote for the majority. She was joined by Judge Priscilla Owen.
Judge James L. Dennis, in a dissent, said Brady's ruling should be upheld. "If ever a case justifiably could be considered to present 'exceptional circumstances' barring reprosecution, this is that case," Dennis wrote.
Neither the state attorney general's office, which supports another trial, or Woodfox's supporters immediately responded to requests for comment.
Woodfox is the last still-incarcerated member of a group that supporters dubbed the "Angola Three" for their decades-long stays in isolation at the Louisiana Penitentiary at Angola and other state prisons.
Woodfox, 68, has consistently maintained his innocence in Miller's death. He is being held at the West Feliciana Parish Detention Center.
Judge Brady had noted that 43 years have passed since the crime, key witnesses have died and there is no physical evidence linking Woodfox to the stabbing.
Woodfox's previous convictions in Miller's death were overturned for reasons including racial bias in selecting a grand jury foreman.
Woodfox was serving time for armed robbery and assault when he was convicted in Miller's killing. Inmates identified him as the one who grabbed the guard from behind while others stabbed Miller with a lawnmower blade and a hand-sharpened prison knife.
But the star witness, a serial rapist who left death row and was pardoned by the Louisiana governor after his testimony, died before the second trial. His testimony could still be read to jurors.