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Louisiana fights release of man in solitary confinement for 43 years

The US state of Louisiana has filed an appeal to block the release of an inmate who has spent the last 43 years in solitary confinement. Amnesty International has called the punishment "cruel and extreme."

Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell has demanded that a federal appeals court stop the

release of Albert Woodfox

, who has been serving a prison sentence since 1972 for the stabbing murder of Brent Miller, a 23-year-old prison guard.

Woodfox has maintained his innocence in the guard's killing, which took place during protests against brutal conditions inside the 18,000-acre penitentiary where he has spent most of his life. Woodfox's two previous convictions had been overturned on account of racial prejudice and lack of evidence.

On Monday, US District Judge James Brady ordered the state to release Woodfox, 68, saying that he should not face a third trial in the killing of the guard. In his ruling, Brady cited the inmate's age and poor health, and said that he doubted that the state of Louisiana could provide a fair third trial.

But Caldwell decided to appeal Brady's order on Tuesday, saying that Woodfox was a killer who needed to remain locked up. The stay granted by the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans could block his release up until 1 p.m. local time on Friday, providing time for the court to decide whether to accept the state's appeal.

A third trial?

"We are hopeful that the Court of Appeals will grant this stay, for the sake of the families of his victims and the multiple juries and grand juries that independently determined that this inmate should be held accountable for his multiple crimes," said Aaron Sadler, Caldwell's spokesman. He stressed that Woodfox was a twice-convicted murderer with an extensive criminal history.

Woodfox was reportedly transferred to the West Feliciana Parish Detention Center in St. Francisville, Louisiana, in recent days to prepare him for a potential third trial. His attorney George Kendall said Woodfox was "guardedly hopeful" about his outlook.

"Judge Brady was correct in granting this release. There is no way possible for the state to afford a fair trial in this case because nearly all of the critical witnesses are dead," Kendall explained.

The 'Angola Three'

Woodfox and two former state prisoners were known in Louisiana as the "Angola Three" because of their long stretches in solitary confinement at the state's only maximum-security prison, known as Angola. The penitentiary in rural Louisiana is colloquially known as "the farm," as it occupies its low-risk inmates with agricultural activities.

Amnesty International and the United Nations have condemned Woodfox's solitary imprisonment as inhumane. Woodfox has spent most of his 43 years in prison in a small cell for 23 hours a day, denied access to social interaction and rehabilitation programs.

In a statement, Amnesty said that this case of solitary confinement could be regarded as "cruel and extreme punishment" - which is banned by the US constitution.

ss/cmk (dpa, AP)

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