Wilkerson, 57, was convicted of the 1973 murder of Angola prisoner Grady Brewer despite the fact that another man confessed to and was convicted of the murder. After two prisoners who testified against Wilkerson, the only evidence presented against him, retracted their testimony and revealed it had been coerced by prison officials, the court of appeals for the Fifth circuit issued a ruling that almost certainly would have led to his release. See: Wilkerson v. Cain, 233 F.3d 886 (5th Cir. 2000).
In a face saving move, the state offered Wilkerson a plea bargain, which he accepted. Six hours later, to the cheers of a throng of family and supporters, Wilkerson walked out of Angola a free man.
He has pledged to dedicate his life to winning freedom from Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace, the other two members of the Angola 3, and for all the other innocent men with whom he was incarcerated for the past three decades. "I may be free of Angola, but Angola will never be free of me," Wilkerson said.
Woodfox and Wallace have also been held in solitary confinement for 29 years. They were convicted of the 1972 murder of an Angola prison guard, a murder they have unwaveringly claimed they did not commit. In recent years, new evidence of their innocence has surfaced. Even though the new evidence was suppressed at the time of their trials, they have thus far been unable to win justice from the courts.
Wilkerson, Woodfox and Wallace have always believed that they were framed by prison officials because they organized the Angola chapter of the Black Panther Party. Prior to being placed in solitary confinement, the men led campaigns to end prisoner rape, improve race relations and ameliorate conditions at the slave plantation turned prison.
All three men entered prison on unrelated robbery charges and quickly joined the prisoners' rights movement that was sweeping the country in the late 1960s. In the ensuing years, the men continued their activism from within solitary confinement by organizing hunger strikes, educating other prisoners and by becoming highly skilled jailhouse lawyers.
The American Civil Liberties Union is currently pursuing a federal lawsuit alleging that the men's 29-year stay in solitary confinement amounts to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth amendment. Now that he is free, Wilkerson plans to travel and speak out against the imprisonment of Woodfox and Wallace and the continuing growth of the American prison industrial complex. For more information about the Angola 3 contact: National Coalition to Free the Angola Three, P.O. Box 221100, Sacramento, CA 95822. (510) 655-8770 or www.prisonactivist.org/angola.
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