NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Louisiana attorneys asked a federal appeals court Wednesday to block the release of longtime inmate Albert Woodfox and allow prosecutors to try him a third time in the 1972 death of a prison guard, but Woodfox's lawyer said a fair trial would be impossible due to the passage of time and the death of critical witnesses..
Defense attorney George Kendall also cited Woodfox's age, 68, and poor health.
"He shouldn't be made to run the gauntlet again," Kendall told a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Woodfox has long maintained his innocence in the 1972 stabbing death of prison guard Brent Miller. He 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.
U.S. District Judge James Brady in Baton Rouge ordered Woodfox's "immediate" release in June and took the extraordinary step of barring a third trial for Woodfox in Miller's death.
Arguing for the state, attorney Richard Stanley said Brady went too far. Obtaining a new indictment was the proper response to Woodfox's two previous convictions being tossed out, he said.
"All of us age. Some of us get sick," Stanley told the judges. "But we are always answerable to the law."
Brady's ruling 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.
The state fought the decision and the 5th Circuit extended a stay keeping Woodfox jailed during the appeal.
The other two members of the "Angola Three" were Herman Wallace, who died in October 2013, just days after a judge granted him a new trial in Miller's death, and Robert King, who was released in 2001 after his conviction in the death of a fellow inmate was overturned.
The state disputes human rights groups' contentions that Woodfox has been held for decades in "solitary confinement," saying that while in prison Woodfox was able to talk to other inmates, have visitors, watch television through the bars of his cell and leave the cell daily for an hour.
After his latest indictment in Miller's death, Woodfox was transferred from a state prison to the West Feliciana Parish Detention Center to await trial.
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