Attorney: Dying 'Angola 3' Inmate is Released in Louisiana

By Phil Gast and Joe Sutton CNN | 10/2/2013, 11:13 a.m.
Herman Wallace, a terminally ill Louisiana inmate who served more than 40 years in solitary confinement, was released from prison ...
Baton Rouge, LA Exterior shots of the Louisiana State Penitentiary, also known as Angola. Photo courtesy of WVLA.

(CNN) -- Herman Wallace, a terminally ill Louisiana inmate who served more than 40 years in solitary confinement, was released from prison Tuesday night, hours after a federal judge vacated his murder conviction and sentence, an attorney told CNN.

An employee at a prison where Wallace was incarcerated confirmed the release but would not give her full name. CNN left a message Tuesday night with a spokeswoman for the state Department of Public Safety and Corrections.

State officials had been threatened with contempt if they did not release Wallace immediately.

Wallace, who has liver cancer, is one of the "Angola 3" -- three inmates who claim they tried to point out injustices at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola during the late 1960s and 1970s.

Wallace's sisters, nieces and nephews want him moved to hospice care in New Orleans, said one of his attorneys. The freed inmate left Hunt Correctional Center by ambulance, according to his lawyers.

"He has claimed there was an unfair trial for 41 years and finally we have that ruling," attorney Nick Trenticosta told CNN on Tuesday night. "For him to pass on from this world with friends and family at his side is extremely important."

The release came hours after U.S. District Chief Judge Brian A. Jackson in Baton Rouge said that women were systematically excluded from the grand jury that indicted Wallace in the 1972 slaying of a guard at Louisiana State Penitentiary.

Jackson declined to address Wallace's other claims, including an allegation that the state knowingly used false testimony and withheld exculpatory evidence at trial.

East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore's office subsequently filed an appeal with the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals and asked that Wallace not be immediately released.

But, in a strongly worded order, Jackson later Tuesday repeated his demand that Wallace be freed immediately, saying the state has failed to show Wallace would be a flight risk or public danger if released. He threatened them with a contempt judgment.

The judge ruled that prosecutors have 30 days to notify Wallace, 71, whether they intend to seek a new indictment in the case. CNN tried to reach Moore's office on Tuesday night, but was unsuccessful.

Wallace's legal team lauded the release of their client.

"Tonight, Herman Wallace has left the walls of Louisiana prisons and will be able to receive the medical care that his advanced liver cancer requires," they said in a statement. "It took the order of a federal judge to address the clear constitutional violations present in Mr. Wallace's 1974 trial and grant him relief. The state of Louisiana has had many opportunities to address this injustice and has repeatedly and utterly failed to do so."

Prison a "cauldron of brutality"

Wallace was in solitary confinement at Louisiana State Penitentiary until 2009, when he was moved to Hunt Correctional Center, where he remained in solitary until his diagnosis, according to Trenticosta.

Trenticosta said Wallace and another inmate at the Angola prison tried "to stop the guard brutality as much as the inmate brutality."