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Louisiana man, held 41 years in solitary, dies 3 days after prison release

Herman Wallace is shown in this 2008 photo taken in the Louisiana State Penitentiary released to Reuters on October 1, 2013. REUTERS/Herman'
Herman Wallace is shown in this 2008 photo taken in the Louisiana State Penitentiary released to Reuters on October 1, 2013. REUTERS/Herman'

By Chris Francescani

(Reuters) - A Louisiana man who was held in solitary confinement for 41 years for a killing he said he did not commit died on Friday, three days after a judge overturned his conviction and freed him.

The man, Herman Wallace, 71, who was known as a member of the "Angola Three" at Louisiana's Angola prison farm, had been suffering from advanced liver cancer when he was wheeled out of a prison medical clinic in St. Gabriel, Louisiana, on Tuesday and returned to his native New Orleans. He died on Friday at about 7 a.m. ET (1100 GMT).

"He was happy to have passed away having had the conviction finally overturned," said attorney George Kendall. "He was resting comfortably and died early this morning amongst family and friends."

Kendall said that Wallace and another member of the "Angola Three," Albert Woodfox, have served the longest stretches in solitary confinement in U.S. prison history.

Wallace, Woodfox and a third inmate, Robert King, were dubbed the "Angola Three" in 1997 when a young law student and a former Black Panther discovered that the three black men had been kept in solitary confinement for more than two decades.

Wallace and Woodfox entered the Angola prison in 1971 after being convicted of armed robbery, and later that year they founded a prison chapter of the Black Panthers Party. They organized inmate protests against rape, violence and inhumane conditions at the prison.

In 1972 both men were sent to solitary confinement after being convicted for the stabbing death of a white prison guard during a prison riot. Wallace and Woodfox both claimed they were framed for their politics. Supporters say no physical evidence ties the men to the murder.

At that time, Angola was largely populated by black inmates and run by an all white prison staff, Kendall said.

On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson ruled that Wallace had not received a fair trial because women were excluded from the grand jury that indicted him.

Jackson overturned Wallace's murder conviction, ending a decades-long odyssey through the courts system for the dying man.

East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore challenged Jackson's ruling and filed an appeal to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, asking the court to order Wallace back to prison.

Moore was in court on Friday and not available to comment, a spokeswoman for his office said.

Woodfox remains in prison. King was released in 2001.

Wallace died in the New Orleans home of a friend, a block from his childhood home, said longtime supporter Jackie Summell, one of a few close friends and family who kept a vigil by his bedside.

"He was surrounded by unbelievable love in that house this morning," Summell said. "The last thing he said to everybody was, 'I love you all very much.'"

(Reporting by Chris Francescani in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and Leslie Adler)

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