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Albert Woodfox, former Black Panther who spent decades in solitary confinement, dies at age 75

Albert Woodfox, a former Black Panther and one of the "Angola Three," has died of complications from COVID-19, his brother told CBS News. He was 75.

Woodfox and two other men became known as the "Angola Three" for their decades-long stays in isolation at the Louisiana Penitentiary at Angola and other prisons. Officials said they were kept in solitary because their Black Panther Party activism would otherwise rile up inmates at the maximum-security prison farm in Angola.  

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA, USA - MARCH 9, 2020Albert Woodfox at
Albert Woodfox at his home in New Orleans, Louisiana.  The Washington Post via Getty Images

Woodfox, the last of the group to be released, spent 43 years in solitary confinement after the 1972 death of prison guard Brent Miller. 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.

Woodfox was placed in solitary immediately after Miller's body was found in an empty prison dormitory, and then was ordered kept on "extended lockdown" every 90 days for decades.

Woodfox consistently maintained his innocence in the killing of Miller. 

He was being held at the West Feliciana Parish Detention Center — awaiting a third trial in Miller's death after two earlier convictions were thrown out by federal courts for reasons including racial bias in selecting a grand jury foreman — when, in June 2015, Federal Judge James Brady intervened and barred the trial, ordering Woodfox's immediate release, CBS affiliate WAFB-TV reported at the time. The judge cited Woodfox's failing health and his belief that the state could not conduct a fair trial.

In February 2016, Woodfox, then 69 years old, pleaded no contest to manslaughter and aggravated burglary and a judge ordered his immediate release. 

"After carefully considering all of the facts and circumstances surrounding this case and its procedural history, as it stands today – our team of prosecutors believes this plea is in the best interest of justice," Attorney General Jeff Landry said in a statement at the time.

"It is clear that the Federal District Court has signaled its intention to force Albert Woodfox's release without any admission of guilt. In the best interest of justice and with the recognition of 42 years of hard labor served, we achieved a conviction waving his right to appeal," Landry added. "Today's plea brings closure to the family of Brent Miller, justice for the people of Louisiana, and finality to this decades-long prosecution."

Woodfox's brother told CBS News on Thursday that going forward, he hopes his brother's legacy will inspire continued prison reform.

The other two members of the Angola Three were Robert King, who was released in 2001 after his conviction in the death of a fellow inmate was overturned; and Herman Wallace, who died a free man in October 2013, just days after a judge granted him a new trial in the guard's death.  

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