ANGOLA, LA (WAFB) - It's a case that gained international attention over the years. On Friday, the last of the "Angola 3," walked free.
The release of Albert Woodfox came on his 69th birthday, something the victim's family called a "slap in their face."
Woodfox walked out of the West Feliciana Parish Jail as a free man with his brother, Michael Mable, at his side, for the first time in more than 42 years.
"I'm trying to adjust to being free. I'm not allowing myself to think beyond those thoughts," said Woodfox.
Woodfox was an inmate at Angola back in 1972 when he and two other inmates were accused of stabbing correctional officer Brent Miller, 23, to death. The three accused became known as the "Angola 3."
Robert King was one of them.
"I feel elated, pretty good & relieved that it's finally over for him. I feel that for Albert, it was not so much so "no contest." For Albert, it was more like a plea for freedom," said King.
Over the past forty plus years, Woodfox was convicted twice of murdering the guard, but both times, it was over-turned.
A federal judge last year granted Woodfox's immediate release but Attorney General Buddy Caldwell's office filed an emergency motion to block the release. Friday, current Attorney General Jeff Landry's office took the original murder charge and crossed it out to put in the new charge, manslaughter.
Woodfox withdrew his previous "not guilty" pleas and pleaded "no contest" to manslaughter & aggravated burglary.
Because Woodfox already served 42 yrs, 11 months & 23 days locked up, the judge allowed his immediate release
Despite Friday's "no contest" plea, his lawyer said Woodfox is innocent.
"The case is now concluded and he is released on time served. We were looking forward to a trial and believed Albert would have been found not guilty but he has health issues that need to be addressed by doctors on the outside. He is going to be evaluated and in order to bring this case to a conclusion, this plea agreement was reached and he's going home today," said Rob McDuff. "This plea deal was to a means to bring this case to an end and ensure his release from prison after 43 years much of which has been served in solitary confinement."
"I feel terrible," said Miller's sister Wanda Callender. "I feel like we've been betrayed."
The guard's siblings said they're "devastated." In his victim impact statement, Miller's younger brother Stan said, "It never leaves you. I was the one who had to go to the elementary school & tell my 12 & 13 year old siblings. A piece of our heart will be gone forever because of this."
Meanwhile, Callender said that the most painful part of this is how the new attorney general's office handled the case. She claimed the AG's Chief Deputy, Bill Stiles, met with them and said if the case went before the supreme court, because all witnesses from the case are dead, Woodfox would walk out free and as a hero so he told them taking this plea bargain was the best deal.
Kiran: Did you tell this family that if it goes before the Supreme Court, it'll be kicked out?
Stiles: No comment.
Kiran: Do you have anything to say as far as the family goes?
Stiles: Only that we spoke to the family and took everything into consideration.
Kiran: Did you give the family a choice?
Stiles: Victims always have an option ma'am & choice.
Kiran: If the previous attorney general's office filed an emergency motion against a federal judge, why would you do this?
Stiles: No comment.
John Sinquefield prosecuted the original case 40 years ago.
"I think justice was served today for the victims and the State of Louisiana. I think what happened today was in everybody's best interest," said Sinquefield. "Given overall that he spent 43 years in jail, given the nature of the evidence at this time, and we're relying on 44-yr-old transcripts and witnesses that are dead, we've been under federal court orders that have sought to release, which have been overruled by the higher courts."
Tony Clayton is the special prosecutor on the case.
"As it stands today, Albert Woodfox stands convicted of the homicide of Brent Miller," said Clayton. "The fact that he wanted to accept responsibility and bring closure to it and waive all of his appeals, we felt it was opportunistic for us to take advantage of it and he pled, served his time and we have closure in this case."
Kiran: If you could go back to that day in April 1972, what would you do?
Woodfox: When the forces are beyond your control, there's not a lot you can do. Angola was a very horrible place at that time and everybody was just fighting to survive day to day.
Kiran: If you can say anything to the family of Brent Miller, what do you say?
Woodfox: I'd rather not express that right now.
Woodfox said the first thing he wanted to do was go say goodbye to his mother and sister because he was not able to make their funerals while in Angola..