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Death in a bloody Southern prison

A guard was stabbed, and two inmates paid with decades of virtual isolation. But new evidence and unusual alliances are emerging.

May 03, 2008|Miguel Bustillo | Times Staff Writer

Woodfox, Wallace and another inmate are also pursuing a civil case against Angola, alleging inhumane treatment. Current warden Burl Cain, who has widely been credited with improving living conditions and ensuring that elderly inmates die with dignity, declined to discuss the ex-Black Panthers' imprisonment. But state officials have strenuously maintained that the isolation of Woodfox and Wallace did not constitute solitary confinement, noting that the inmates had televisions and limited human contact.

For more than a decade, activist groups including Amnesty International have complained about the treatment of Wallace and Woodfox, and the British founders of the Body Shop chain of beauty products have long championed their cause. Mizell, who's writing a book on the case, started working for the men's defense team after she became convinced they were innocent.

Verrett sometimes sits and looks at weathered pictures of Miller and herself. In hindsight, she believes state officials were trying to keep details of his death from coming to light, for fear that the public would learn that the evidence against Woodfox and Wallace was threadbare at best.

She remembered that two years after Miller's murder, she had tried to hire attorneys to file a claim against the state, seeking compensation -- a standard practice when guards are injured, much less killed. Prison officials became distant, and she eventually abandoned the case.

All she wants now is "justice for Brent," she said. She's not sure he's ever gotten it.


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