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Herman Wallace, Held in Solitary Confinement for 41 Years, Dies After Three Days of Freedom

Herman Wallace (1941-2013) | Photo from Angola 3 News

The movement for human rights and justice mourns the loss of Herman Wallace, a former prisoner of the Louisiana State Penitentiary (Angola prison) who was held in solitary confinement for forty-one years before having his conviction and sentence for murder vacated by a judge this week.

Wallace was released from prison because his Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection under the law had been violated when he was convicted by a jury that no women. The judge immediately moved to have Wallace released. Only after the district court judge threatened to hold the state in contempt of court if they did not obey him and let him go free did the prison allow him to be put into an ambulance that would take him to a hospital.

This conduct on the part of the state took place in spite of the fact that the man known as a member of the Angola 3 was dying from advanced liver cancer and would be dead very soon.

Yet, the callousness did not stop there. Two days after he was sent home to die amongst his friends and family, the terminally ill political prisoner and former Black Panther was re-indicted by a grand jury in Louisiana.

Wallace’s legal team reacted, “If it is true, we are shocked that a state grand jury was asked to indict a man who has only days to live.”

West Feliciana District Attorney Samuel D’Aquilla said, “I say he is a murderer, and he is not innocent,” and, “The conviction was overturned because the federal judge perceived a flaw in the indictment—not his murder conviction.”

D’Aquilla made it seem like the state was being compassionate by not moving to immediately have him jailed again and by planning to not schedule any dates in court until December. However, anyone familiar with Wallace’s case will understand that the state was nothing but barbaric toward Wallace and that is because he tried to organize a Black Panther Party chapter in the prison in the 1970s.

Several details highlighted by NPR help prove Wallace did not murder the prison guard he was convicted of killing. Hezekiah Brown, a serial rapist who claimed to be the key witness to the murder, was apparently offered a pardon for his testimony. The deputy warden even recalled that “you could make him say anything you wanted him to say.” There was a “single bloody fingerprint ” found at the scene. It did not match Wallace, but the print was never tested by the state because it said it was not going to test the fingerprint.

Anne Butler, a forewoman of the grand jury that reindicted him in the 1990s, was the former wife of a warden in the Angola prison, Murray Henderson. She is known to have passed around a book to fellow jurors informing them that Woodfox and Wallace committed the murder. She even wondered why she was allowed to be a part of the jury and said to the district attorney at the time, “You are going to put me off this,” and he said “no.”

On top of that, Wallace was never given an opportunity to challenge his cruel confinement conditions. Every time officials “reviewed” his status in the prison, he was never given a chance to speak and would be handed a piece of paper indicating that nothing would change. And the reason for this was the fact that he had a past history of “Black Pantherism” and could not be allowed to be in the prison organizing younger inmates.

Angola 3 News, which has been advocating for justice for not just Wallace but also Albert Woodfox (who remains imprisoned for his involvement in the same murder despite the fact his conviction has been overturned), published a tribute to Wallace, who was described as the “Muhammad Ali of the criminal justice system.”:

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."