2nd Murder Retrial Argued in Angola 3 Case - Criminal Law - U.S. Fifth Circuit
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2nd Murder Retrial Argued in Angola 3 Case

One of three men convicted of the "Angola 3" prison guard murder is getting a second chance for a retrial in his case before the Fifth Circuit.

A three-judge panel heard Albert Woodfox's case in oral arguments on January 7, urging the court to consider giving Woodfox a third trial for the 1972 murder of prison guard Brent Miller, reports The Times-Picayune.

What's at stake in this 42-year-old case?

Third Trial's the Charm for 1 of Angola 3

While it may seem ludicrous to grant a second retrial in a case which is over four decades old, the allegations of racial discrimination are similarly ugly.

In 1993, Woodfox was re-indicted in his first retrial after his original 1974 conviction was overturned in 1992. This trial ended in conviction in 1998 but was overturned in 2008 on an ineffective counsel appeal -- a decision that the Fifth Circuit reversed.

The net change? Woodfox has spent approximately 42 years in what most Americans would call solitary confinement, with some periods of 23 hour cell confinement, according to Amnesty International. His co-defendants in the 1974 murder have both been released upon appeal, but one died only three days after being released, reports National Public Radio.

Woodfox is the sole member left incarcerated; trying yet another appeal to overturn his conviction, this time arguing that the history of racial discrimination in West Feliciana Parish, Louisiana, tainted his 1993 indictment by grand jury.

Proving History of Racial Discrimination

In oral arguments, Woodfox's counsel argued that the state of Louisiana failed to offer credible evidence that the racial disparity in Woodfox's grand jury was either by chance or explained by race-neutral selection procedures.

Of particular interest was the allegation that only "five black grand jury forepersons" existed in West Feliciana Parish from 1980 to 1993, as compared to 22 white forepersons, reports the Times-Picayune.

Most of the legal meat rests on the application of Castaneda v. Partida, a case where SCOTUS found that the Texas government failed to rebut evidence that the racial disparity in a grand jury was due to discrimination.

There is no magic bullet in these racial disparity cases, and the courts have been notoriously hard to impress with allegations of juror disparity. In court on Tuesday, East Feliciana District Judge William Kline stated that he "tried to be fair" in appointing jury forepersons, reports the Times-Picayune.

The Fifth Circuit is expected to make a decision in one to three months.

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