Last of Louisiana's 'Angola Three' inmates released

by Reuters |

ST. FRANCISVILLE, La. (Reuters) - The last of three black inmates who spent decades in solitary confinement in Louisiana's notorious Angola prison was released on Friday after pleading no contest to manslaughter in the 1972 death of a prison guard.

Albert Woodfox served more time in solitary confinement than any prisoner in U.S. history, according to his attorneys, after being convicted of killing Brent Miller at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola.

He was ordered released from jail after his no contest plea, attorney Katherine Kimpel said. Woodfox also pleaded no contest to aggravated burglary.

Woodfox was picked up from the West Feliciana Parish Jail, where he had been most recently held, by his brother and driven away.

"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," said Woodfox, who turned 69 on Friday.

Woodfox maintained his innocence in a statement released by his attorneys. "I hope the events of today will bring closure to many," he said.

He spent more than four decades in prison in isolation, his attorneys noted.

Another inmate convicted for Miller's death was released in 2013 and died three days later. A third inmate, who also spent much of his sentence in isolation for another crime, was released years ago.

The men were dubbed the "Angola Three" and their cases drew international condemnation. Despite its infamous reputation, Angola State Penitentiary, the site of a former slave plantation, is also where New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary has one of the most unusual prison programs in the country. The college related to the seminary offers degrees and dozens of graduates have gone on to preach, serve as missionaries or counsel in other prisons.

Woodfox had legal proceedings pending in state and federal courts, Kimpel said. He was convicted twice of Miller's murder, but both convictions were ultimately thrown out in court.

Louisiana state prosecutors had sought to try him a third time.

Woodfox spent most of the time in a 6-by-9-foot- (1.8-by-2.7-meter-) cell in a prison that was once a part of a Deep South plantation and was known for seething racial tensions and harsh treatment of inmates.

(Reporting by Letitia Stein in Tampa, Florida and Bryn Stole in Baton Rouge, La.; Editing by Paul Simao)