NEW ORLEANS — Albert Woodfox, who has spent nearly all of the past four decades in solitary confinement and was facing his third trial for a 1972 murder, will be set free Friday as part of a plea deal with Louisiana prosecutors, his lawyer, George Kendall said.
Mr. Woodfox, who has long maintained his innocence in the murder of a prison guard, Brent Miller, pleaded no contest to lesser charges of manslaughter and aggravated burglary before a judge in West Feliciana Parish, which is north of Baton Rouge. Mr. Kendall emphasized that the plea was not an admission of guilt.
Mr. Woodfox will be released Friday on time served for those charges.
Mr. Woodfox, who just turned 69, has been kept in solitary for longer than any other prisoner in the country, possibly longer than any in American history. He was a member of a group of politically active prisoners held in solitary who were known by supporters as the Angola 3. (They were held in the Louisiana State Penitentiary, which is known as Angola.)
A fellow inmate also charged with the murder, Herman Wallace, was released in 2013 because he was suffering from liver cancer. He died several days later. The third member of the Angola 3, Robert King Wilkerson, who like Mr. Wallace and Mr. Woodfox had been active in the Black Panther Party, but whose placement in solitary had nothing to do with Mr. Miller’s killing, was freed in 2001 after his conviction was overturned.
Mr. Woodfox, who had originally been serving time at Angola on an armed robbery charge, was twice convicted of the murder of Mr. Miller, who was 23 at the time of his death. But both convictions were thrown out on the grounds that Mr. Woodfox had not been adequately represented at trial and that racial discrimination had been a factor in selecting the foreman for the grand jury.
Each time, Mr. Woodfox was re-indicted by the state. Burl Cain, the longtime warden at Angola until his recent resignation in the midst of a corruption investigation, insisted for years that Mr. Woodfox was dangerous and should be kept in isolation, most of the time in a nine-by-six-foot cell.
Mr. Woodfox’s lawyers had argued that a fair trial at this date would be impossible, given that all of the main witnesses are dead. In June, a federal judge agreed, ordering that Mr. Woodfox be unconditionally released and barring the state from taking him to trial for a third time on the same charge. But the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that ruling.
The state and Mr. Woodfox’s lawyers had been preparing for a new trial when the plea deal was reached