[sixties-l] Panther Sprung (Angola 3)

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: Mon Mar 12 2001 - 16:48:17 EST

  • Next message: William M. Mandel: "Re: [sixties-l] Free speech issues"

    From: "Claudia K. White, BS, CT" <Msdarkstar1@angelfire.com>
    Sent: Saturday, March 10, 2001

    The full text of the Gambit article about King does not appear on
    the Gambit website, but here's a copy of the first half of it.
    Y'all might want to visit the website yourself
    (www.bestofneworleans.com/gw/news-feat.html) to see if the whole
    text ends up in the Gambit archive. Also, there's a photo of King
    you might want to see. Those of you who have met Althea's wonderful
    4-year-old granddaughter Garyelle should enjoy the way the "little
    artist" managed to get herself into the lead of this story. --Anita

    PANTHER SPRUNG By Katy Reckdahl

    Newly released "Angola Three" inmate Robert King Wilkerson says
    that he's glad to be free and that he won't forget the two who
    remain in captivity.

    "I was being held in C-1 - they called it the Panther Tier," begins
    Robert King Wilkerson, recalling Orleans Parish Prison in the early

    He stops his story. A long-legged little girl with four ponytails
    skips over to the sofa.

    "Can I please have some chewing gum?" she asks politely, putting
    out her hand. He laughs and hands over a stick of gum from a front
    pocket of his jeans. She pops it in her mouth and bounces into a
    nearby armchair, next to a stack of her amoebae -like pen drawings
    - portraits of Wilkerson and today's guest.

    This little artist knows Wilkerson's face well, but not from seeing
    him here on her grandma's sofa. She knows Wilkerson's face from
    seeing his photo in the next room on a big poster that reads, "Free
    the Angola Three."

    Wilkerson is a nationally known cause celebre, one of the famed
    Angola Three, a trio of longtime inmates who, back in the 1970s,
    organized and led the Angola chapter of the Black Panther Party.

    Supporters of the Angola Three say that Wilkerson - along with his
    fellow Panthers Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace - were handed
    lengthy terms for prison murders they did not commit.

    Wilkerson is currently able to sit on a soft brown sofa and hand
    out chewing gum because he was released last month after spending
    29 years at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.

    Almost all of those years were lived out in a 6-by-9-by-12-foot
    cell in what's called CCR (Closed Cell Restricted), the solitary
    confinement unit within Angola, where men remain in their cells
    for 23 hours a day. His comrades Woodfox and Wallace have been
    similarly held and remain there, sentenced for the murder of prison
    guard Brent Miller in 1972.

    The Angola Three's prolonged confinements in CCR are thought by
    the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to be the longest of its
    kind in the U.S., perhaps in the world. As a result, the ACLU filed
    a civil complaint on their behalf in December in U.S. District
    Court, Middle District of Louisiana. The complaint charges prison
    officials - including Louisiana Department of Public Safety and
    Corrections Secretary Richard Stalder and seven Angola representatives
    - with violating the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of cruel and
    unusual punishment. Stalder could not be reached by presstime for

    Early last month, however, on Feb. 8, Wilkerson's shackles and
    handcuffs were removed and he strode out of Angola into the fresh
    air. The state had offered Wilkerson a plea bargain because, say
    his supporters, a favorable United States Court of Appeals ruling
    in December had made it clear that Wilkerson was on a path to
    eventual release.

    In the December ruling (Wilkerson v. Cain) by a three-judge panel,
    the two-judge majority commented on Wilkerson's trial and subsequent
    re-trial for the 1973 stabbing death of fellow inmate August Kelly.
    They note that a fellow inmate, Grady Brewer, had testified in 1997
    that he had been the sole murderer of Kelly. And they commented on
    the rest of the case: "The state's only evidence that Wilkerson
    committed the crime was the eyewitness testimony of inmate William
    Riley who testified at both trials that he was standing within four
    to five feet of the altercation and witnessed Wilkerson stab Kelly.
    There was no physical evidence linking Wilkerson to the murder.
    Although eight knives were seized from the prisoners, the knife
    used to inflict the fatal wounds was never discovered. No fingerprints
    were found; no blood samples were taken."

    Wilkerson contended that evidence showing that eyewitness Riley
    might have been "influenced" to testify against him should have
    been revealed at the trial. In its December ruling, the court

    And so Wilkerson has found himself today in New Orleans, in the
    Bywater neighborhood, stopping by the house of his friend Althea
    Francois, a fellow Black Panther he'd met in the 1970s when he
    was in O.P.P. and she and her friend would visit every Sunday.

    Wilkerson's visit today started out with a few poses by the Angola
    Three poster for a photographer who snapped a few shots and then
    looked up to ask whether Wilkerson wanted to appear serious or
    happy. "I can smile if you'd like," said Wilkerson.

    "People say my whole appearance changed once I walked out of Angola,
    a burden was lifted off my shoulders," Wilkerson added.

    Then a serious look dropped over his face. "People ask me, "Are
    you bitter?" I say, "Hell, yeah, a person can't be - pardon the
    expression - dipped in shit and not come up smelling foul." But I
    can clean myself off. I can rise above my bitterness; I cannot help
    my companions or anyone else by being bitter. I must, I shall rise
    above it."

    Wilkerson, a Charity Hospital baby and New Orleans native, has been
    in the Louisiana prison system for nearly his entire life.

    When Wilkerson was 15, he was "pulling capers" and generally getting
    into trouble. He was picked up in New Orleans on an armed- robbery
    charge and sent to the State Industrial School for Colored Youth,
    a juvenile prison located at Scotlandville, near Baton Rouge. He
    says he did not commit that specific crime, but acknowledges he
    was a kid on the wrong side of the law.

    (end excerpt)

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