Released Member of Angola 3 Working to Free Other Two

Robert Wilkerson (Photo by: Joe McCoy/WAFB-TV)
Robert Wilkerson (Photo by: Joe McCoy/WAFB-TV)

Robert Wilkerson was in solitary confinement at Angola State Penitentiary for almost 30 years for a crime he did not commit. Wilkerson was part of a group known as the "Angola 3." Now, he and his lawyers want to prove the innocence of the other two. Their efforts brought in federal officials Thursday.

"I did 31 years total, 29 in solitary confinement." Robert Wilkerson is one of the so-called Angola 3. One of three men placed in solitary confinement for more than three decades for a crime he says they did not commit - killing a white prison guard in 1972. "My soul cried while I was down there." Wilkerson says he, Herman Wallace, and Albert Woodfox were targeted because of their blatant activism with the Black Panther Party. He says they spoke out against alleged rapes, stabbings, segregation, and murders at Angola State Penitentiary.

In 2001, Wilkerson's case was overturned and he was set free from Angola, and from Warden Burl Cane. "I walked out of prison in spite of his saying I would die at Angola, my grave on point lookout number two waiting for me." Wilkerson is free of Angola, but says Angola is not yet free of him. He says he and his attorneys have to get the other two members of the Angola 3 out of solitary confinement and eventually out of prison.

"The state fights these cases at every turn. They just are not capable of admitting mistakes were made," says attorney Scott Fleming. Fleming was the first to believe the Angola 3's story ten years ago. He read a letter from one of the men, then traveled to Louisiana to meet them. He's been fighting for their release ever since. "This case is just emblematic of the fact that we're addicted to putting people in prison and throwing away the key, no matter what the facts are," he says.

State Representative Cedric Richmond of New Orleans agrees. He believes these three men were innocent scapegoats in a time of national unrest. "We don't want to be in the national press and have another Jena movement," he says. Richmond suggests Governor Bobby Jindal pardon the other two men now to avoid another black eye for Louisiana's image and to keep federal funding for the state prison system. Richmond is confident the other two members of the Angola 3 will be released from solitary confinement within the next few weeks. He says when federal judiciary representative John Conyers sees the conditions at Angola, he will not approve.

We also talked with Warden Cain about the comment Wilkerson says he made. Cain said, "I would never say something like that. I give more hope to inmates than that. That's what makes a prison work."