12 November 2013 - HERMAN WALLACE FREED


G'day folks,

Today I feature a disturbing story from Louisiana, USA - HERMAN WALLACE. Brace yourself ...

In the last 41 years, Herman Wallace has been incarcerated for a robbery he did commit, indicted for a murder a court ruled he didn't and diagnosed with a cancer that will end his life. But Tuesday night, he passed through the prison gates and, as a free man, made his way back to the city in which he grew up -- New Orleans.

For a while on Tuesday evening, it looked as though Wallace wouldn't be released. Warden Howard Prince left to eat dinner, claiming he couldn't allow Wallace's release because he'd already left the grounds. But a federal judge ordered him back and after another hour of wrangling, Wallace emerged from the gates of the prison in the back of an ambulance.

 The 71-year-old former Black Panther and member of "the Angola Three" was diagnosed with advanced liver cancer earlier this year and has just days or weeks to live.

Supporters said Wallace will spend his final days surrounded by friends and family in his hometown. Hospice care is waiting for him in New Orleans, but supporters said late Tuesday due to his precarious medical state, Wallace will instead be diverted, at least for now, to LSU Medical Center for treatment.

Wallace's release was first ordered early Tuesday by Judge Brian A. Jackson of the Middle District Court of Louisiana. Jackson also overturned a 1974 conviction in which Wallace was found guilty of the murder of a young Angola prison guard.

The same day, East Baton Rouge District Attorney, Hillar Moore, appealed the ruling. But by late afternoon, Jackson threw out the appeal and ordered Wallace's immediate release.

Wallace's legal team, two long-time friends and a camera crew shooting a documentary met him at the gates. Ashley Wennerstrom, a program director at Tulane's School of Medicine and friend of Wallace, told Wallace, "You're going home, baby." Maria Hinds, a graphic designer who has known Wallace for five years, stroked his head.

By Tuesday evening, they had made the one-hour journey back to New Orleans, where Wallace will receive medical treatment for his cancer.

Wallace's story behind bars begins just over four decades ago, when he was first sent to prison at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, more commonly known as Angola or "The Farm." While serving time for a robbery conviction, he and fellow inmate Albert Woodfox started a local chapter of the Black Panthers and advocated against the culture of violence and rape pervasive there at the time.

Tensions were high at the prison in the late 1960s and early 70s, when the inmate population -- as today -- was mostly black. But, unlike today, at that time the guards were all white. Before long, Wallace and Woodfox were implicated in the savage stabbing death of a well-liked, young Angola guard named Brent Miller.

They both maintained their innocence in the murder, saying they were only implicated because of the prison leadership's worries over the growth of Angola's Black Panther chapter.

They were indicted by all-male, all-white grand juries in 1972, and convicted in 1974. Physical evidence was scant and Wallace contended an inmate witness in his trial was promised concessions by prison leadership if he testified against Wallace.

After the trial, each man was confined to small one-room cells for the next four decades. Robert King, another prisoner and Black Panther party member, was convicted of the murder of another inmate and also thrown into solitary.

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 in prison.

When Wallace was diagnosed with advanced liver cancer earlier this year, he won reprieve from the confinement of the cell and was placed in the hospital wing at Elayn Hunt Correctional Center in St. Gabriel, about 40 miles southeast of Baton Rouge.

But his cancer was so advanced, treatment was halted almost immediately. When it became clear he had months or weeks to live, Jackson ordered his release. But the overturning of Wallace's sentence could reverberate beyond his case.

Woodfox, who is still held in solitary confinement at David Wade Correctional Center in Homer, is currently seeking a restraining order against the state for daily strip and cavity searches by guards at the facility. Woodfox is also seeking his release.

"Litigation challenging Mr. Wallace's unconstitutional confinement in solitary confinement for four decades will continue in his name. It is Mr. Wallace's hope that this litigation will help ensure that others, including his lifelong friend and fellow 'Angola 3' member, Albert Woodfox, do not continue to suffer such cruel and unusual confinement even after Mr. Wallace is gone," Wallace's legal team said Tuesday.


 New Orleans native, former Black Panther and member of the Angola Three, Herman Wallace, died Thursday night because of complications from liver cancer, friends and counsel confirmed Friday morning.

"He passed away in my home," said Ashley Wennerstrom, a long-time friend and program director at Tulane's School of Medicine. "He was surrounded by friends and family and love in his last few days."

Among his last words were, "I am free. I am free," said Wallace's counsel, who added he had "no hate in his heart...despite the cruelty (he) was shown."

   Parnell Herbert, a Navy veteran who grew up with Wallace and has written a play documenting the story of the Angola Three, called Wallace "a phenomenal person" whose mission was to help people.

"He completed that mission," said Herbert. "And he was able to see himself a free man. He passed away peacefully in his sleep." 

Wallace, 71, spent more than four decades in solitary confinement in Louisiana's prisons, after being convicted of the 1972 murder of prison guard Brent Miller at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, also known as Angola or "The Farm." 

He maintained his innocence in the murder until his death late Thursday. Physical evidence in the case was scant and Miller's widow repeatedly questioned the court's findings, especially after Wallace said an inmate witness who testified against him was offered concessions by prison staff to do so. 

Wallace and fellow Angola Three member, Albert Woodfox, said they were only implicated because of their involvement with Angola's Black Panther chapter. While at Angola, Wallace and Woodfox started the chapter to fight against the culture of violence and rape pervasive there at the time. 

Herbert said Wallace also helped other inmates learn how to read and write, get their GEDs and prepare legal briefs.

 On Tuesday, a federal court judge in Baton Rouge overturned Wallace's grand jury indictment in Miller's death, saying he did not receive a fair hearing because the jury had no female members. Wallace was released from Elayn Hunt Correctional Center that evening, where he was being held in the hospital wing, and was transported to LSU Interim Hospital in New Orleans. 

Thursday afternoon, less than 24 hours after Wallace had been transported into hospice care at Wennerstrom's home, a newly-convened grand jury in West Feliciana re-indicted Wallace on the murder charge.

West Feliciana District Attorney, Samuel D'Aquilla, confirmed the reindictment Friday morning, saying the grand jury featured six women and at least one black member, an older man roughly Wallace's age. 

D'Aquilla said no court date would have been set until December, long after friends and family expected Wallace to live. But D'Aquilla denied the move was political, saying only "we just had concerns about compassion issues."

D'Aquilla maintained his stance that Wallace was guilty of Miller's murder, however, saying the federal judge only overturned the grand jury indictment and not his 1974 conviction.

 Robert King, the third member of the Angola Three and who was convicted of killing a fellow inmate, was exonerated and released from prison in 2001 after 29 years in solitary. 

Woodfox remains incarcerated at David Wade Correctional Center in Homer and is appealing to the 5th Circuit Court for his release. He is also seeking a restraining order against the state for daily strip and cavity searches by guards at the facility.

Nick Trenticosta, a member the Angola Three legal team, said he feels confident in Woodfox's case going forward, adding, "we feel pretty good that we'll prevail."

Amnesty International’s USA Executive Director, Steven Hawkins, also called attention to Woodfox's case in a statement release Friday morning. 

"Nothing can undo the authorities’ shocking treatment of (Wallace), which led more than 200,000 people to act on his behalf," Hawkins said, referring to an Amnesty petition calling for his release. "The state of Louisiana must now prevent further inhuman treatment by removing Wallace’s co-defendant Albert Woodfox from solitary confinement."

Wennerstrom said she hopes Wallace's case will call attention to the wider problems in the state's penal system.

"This was never just about Herman or just about Albert," she said. "This is about a much larger movement to make the criminal justice system actually just."

Clancy's comment: What an extraordinary spirit to have put up with so much for so long ... only to be 'nipped' just as he reached the line. What was that about man's inhumanity to man? 

I rest my case. 

Pax vobiscum, Mr. Wallace. Rest easy, brother. You have more than done your time ... and paid your dues. May you rest in peace.

I'm ...

R.I.P Mr. Herman Wallace

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