US man ordered freed after 43 years in solitary confinement

Angola Three member Albert Woodfox freed though Louisiana may yet appeal decision

A federal court has ordered the release of the longest-standing solitary confinement prisoner in the US, who has been in isolation almost without pause for 43 years.

Albert Woodfox, the only remaining imprisoned member of a group of prisoners know as the Angola Three, has been in solitary since 18 April 1972 after a prison riot that resulted in the death of a guard.

A ruling by the US court of appeals for the fifth circuit in November gave the 68-year-old his greatest hope of release when it overturned his conviction, but he was charged again at state level in February.

On Monday a district court ordered his immediate release and barred the state from holding a second retrial.

The court said it had found at least five factors in Woodfox’s favour, including his age and poor health and his limited ability to present a defence at a third trial in the light of the unavailability of witnesses.

It also cited its “lack of confidence in the state to provide a fair third trial, the prejudice done onto Mr Woodfox by spending over 40 years in solitary confinement, and finally the very fact that Mr Woodfox has already been tried twice and would otherwise face his third trial for a crime that occurred over 40 years ago”.

Supporters of Woodfox are remaining cautious for now in the face of a possible appeal by the state of Louisiana.

Aaron Sadler, the communications director for the Louisiana Department of Justice, reportedly said that the district court order "arbitrarily sets aside jury decisions" based on "faulty procedural issues".

"With today's order, the court would see fit to set free a twice-convicted murderer who is awaiting trial again for the brutal slaying of corrections officer Brent Miller, " Sadler said.

Woodfox was convicted of the murder that year of a guard in Angola prison, Louisiana, where he was serving time for armed robbery. He has always protested his innocence, insisting that the Angola Three were victims of a political vendetta because of their then membership in the Black Panther party.

Herman Wallace, another member of the Angola Three, was released in October 2013, when in the terminal stages of liver cancer and at the end of a bitter struggle with the Louisiana authorities. He died two days later.

Robert King, the third member of the Angola Three, was released in 2001 after 29 years in solitary.