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Last of Angola 3 Free After 42 Yrs. in Solitary

(CN) - Albert Woodfox, the last of the Louisiana prisoners nicknamed the "Angola 3," celebrated his birthday Friday by leaving the prison where he spent a record-breaking 42 years in solitary confinement.

In 1971, Woodfox and two other men - Herman Wallace and Robert King - received lengthy prison sentences for armed robbery that sent them to the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.

They quickly formed a Black Panthers chapter to protest the prison's deplorable conditions and segregation policies.

Within a year, a prison uprising erupted that ended in the death of a guard, Brent Miller.

Authorities charged Woodfox and Wallace with Miller's murder, and King with a separate killing, before punishing all of the men with decades of solitary confinement.

All three of the men, who came to be known as the "Angola 3," maintained their innocence. They attracted the support of human rights groups, sympathetic documentary filmmakers and even Miller's widow.

King, who spent 29 years in the hole, had his conviction overturned before he left the jail in 2001.

Twelve year later, in 2013, Wallace also won his freedom at the age of 71. He died days later of complications related to liver cancer.

Woodfox, who saw his convictions overturned twice and awaited a third trial, would wait another two years before a federal judge ordered his release.

"It is uncontested that Mr. Woodfox is now 68 years old and in poor health," U.S. District Judge James Brady said in his ruling last year. "At least as far back as 2008, this court recognized that Mr. Woodfox was 'a frail, sickly, middle-aged man who has had an exemplary conduct record for over the last 20 years."'

Citing his "lack of confidence in the state to provide a fair third trial," Brady ordered his release last summer. The Fifth Circuit delayed the release pending an appeal from Louisiana's attorney general.

On Friday, Woodfox spent his 69th birthday as a free man.

Amnesty International's senior campaigner Jasmine Heiss called the news "long overdue."

"Nothing will truly repair the cruel, inhuman and degrading solitary confinement that the state of Louisiana inflicted upon him," Heiss said in a statement. "But this belated measure of justice, on Woodfox's 69th birthday, is something he has been seeking for more than half his life."

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