Herman Wallace, a member of the “Angola Three” who were accused of fatally stabbing a prison guard in 1972, was released from a Louisiana prison late Tuesday after spending 41 years in solitary confinement for a crime he continuously insisted he did not commit. Now, after a terminal liver cancer diagnosis, Wallace’s legal team hopes that he can finally get adequate care upon his release.
"Tonight, Herman Wallace has left the walls of Louisiana prisons and will be able to receive the medical care that his advanced liver cancer requires," his legal team said in a statement.
U.S. District Chief Judge Brian Jackson overturned Wallace’s 1974 murder conviction for the death of 23-year-old prison guard Brent Miller, saying that he did not receive a fair trial as required under the U.S. Constitution. At the time, women were excluded from the grand jury in Wallace’s case — a fact which the Judge Jackson believed was strategic in nabbing a conviction on the charges. After reviewing the case, Jackson said Wallace’s immediate release was the only option.
"The record in this case makes clear that Mr. Wallace's grand jury was improperly chosen in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment's guarantee of 'the equal protection of the laws' ... and that the Louisiana courts, when presented with the opportunity to correct this error, failed to do so," Jackson wrote. "Our Constitution requires this result even where, as here, it means overturning Mr. Wallace's conviction nearly forty years after it was entered."
Some believed that Wallace’s conviction, along with the conviction of two other inmates for the stabbing death of Miller, was racially motivated. According to the NY Daily News, Wallace was initially incarcerated at Louisiana’s Angola prison farm for armed robbery. He founded a Black Panther Party chapter at the prison, which had a large African American population and an entirely Caucasian prison guard staff. When Miller was killed during a prison riot, Wallace was one of three prisoners charged with the crime.
"They were targeted for their political views," said George Kendall, Wallace’s attorney. "It is Mr. Wallace's hope that this litigation will help ensure that others, including his lifelong friend and fellow 'Angola 3' member, Albert Woodfox, do not continue to suffer such cruel and unusual confinement even after Mr. Wallace is gone," the legal team added in a statement.