Within a week after being released from more than forty years in solitary confinement in a Louisiana prison, Herman Wallace, 71, had little time enjoy his newfound freedom. On Friday, Oct. 4, he died in New Orleans. As we reported in these pages weeks ago, Wallace had been diagnosed with terminal liver cancer and his condition was brought to the attention of the world by Amnesty International who was relentless to gain his freedom and get him medical treatment.
According to Wallace’s close friend and supporter, Jackie Sumell, he was surrounded by friends and associates and though weaving in and out of consciousness, told them, “I love you.” He was originally sentenced to serve 50 years for a robbery.
During the last few days of his life, Wallace’s situation was a source of legal ups and downs. Last Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson of Baton Rouge had ordered that Wallace be released from prison, granting him a new trial. The judge ruled, in accordance with his defense attorneys, that women had been excluded from the grand jury that indicted him in the stabbing death of a prison guard at the penitentiary in Angola, where Wallace was held for many years and earned him the designation as one of the “Angola 3.”
Wallace and two other inmates—Albert Woodfox and Robert King—gained national attention as the “Angola 3” from cases in which supporters charged were a circus of injustice. They believed they were convicted because of their desire to create a branch of the Black Panther Party in the prison in 1971. Woodfox remains in prison but King, who was convicted of killing an inmate in 1973, was released ten years ago and his conviction was reversed.
A meaner reversal awaited Wallace two days after being granted a new trial when he was re-indicted by District Attorney Sam D’Aquilla of West Feliciana Parish, indicating that the judge’s decision was based a “perceived flaw in the indictment, not his murder conviction.”
Wallace’s attorneys said in a statement Friday that it was an honor to represent him, according to a story at Huffington Post. “Herman endured what very few of us can imagine, and he did it with grace, dignity, and empathy to the end,” they said. “Although his freedom was much too brief, it meant the world to Herman to spend these last three days surrounded by the love of his family and friends. One of the final things that Herman said to us was, ‘I am free. I am free.’”