Herman Wallace may be the longest-serving prisoner in solitary confinement in the United States—he's spent more than 40 years in a 6-by-9-foot cell in Louisiana. Imprisoned in 1967 for a robbery he admits, he was subsequently sentenced to life for a killing he vehemently denies. Herman's House is a moving account of the remarkable expression his struggle found in an unusual project proposed by artist Jackie Sumell. Imagining Wallace's "dream home" began as a game and became an interrogation of justice and punishment in America. The film takes us inside the duo's unlikely 12-year friendship, revealing the transformative power of art. You can watch the full documentary free online at PBS until November 2.
Herman Wallace, 71, who was released on Tuesday after spending 41 years in solitary confinement at the Lousiana State Penitentiary at Angola, died on Friday from terminal liver cancer. Mr. Wallace had been serving a 50 year sentence for armed robbery when he was convicted in the stabbing death of a prison guard. His participation in a group who protested for better prison conditions led them to be dubbed the "Angola 3." On Tuesday, a judge ordered him released and granted him a new trial based on an unconstitutional grand jury selection.
Wallace's release on Tuesday came hours after U.S. District Chief Judge Brian A. Jackson in Baton Rouge said that women were systematically excluded from the grand jury that indicted Wallace in the 1972 slaying of a guard at Louisiana State Penitentiary.
East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore's office subsequently filed an appeal with the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals and asked that Wallace not be immediately released.
But, in a strongly worded order, Jackson later Tuesday repeated his demand that Wallace be freed immediately, saying the state has failed to show Wallace would be a flight risk or public danger if released. He threatened them with a contempt judgment.
Attorneys for Herman Wallace said he died at the home of a supporter in New Orleans. Mr. Wallace had been diagnosed with terminal liver cancer, and stopped receiving treatment.
Jackie Sumell, a longtime supporter of Wallace -- also the creative artist behind the documentary "Herman's House" -- said he was surrounded by friends and family when he died. Wallace at one point told them, "I love you all," according to Sumell.
"He was in and out of consciousness," she said.
A West Feliciana Parish grand jury re-indicted Wallace on charges connected to Miller's death on Thursday. District Attorney Sam D'Aquilla told The Advocate that Jackson ordered a new trial because he "perceived a flaw in the indictment — not his murder conviction."
Wallace and two other inmates held in solitary confinement for years came to be known as the "Angola 3."
Wallace and fellow "Angola 3" member Albert Woodfox denied involvement in Miller's killing, claiming they were targeted because they helped establish a prison chapter of the Black Panther Party at the Angola prison in 1971, set up demonstrations and organized strikes for better conditions.
In 2009, Wallace was moved from Angola to "closed-cell restriction" at Hunt Correctional in St. Gabriel, where he only recently was taken to the prison's hospital unit.
In 2010, Woodfox was moved to the David Wade Correctional Center in Homer, where he remains in custody.
The third "Angola 3" member, Robert King, who was convicted of killing a fellow inmate in 1973, was released in 2001 after his conviction was reversed.
Wallace's attorneys said in a statement Friday that it was an honor to represent him.
"Herman endured what very few of us can imagine, and he did it with grace, dignity, and empathy to the end," they said. "Although his freedom was much too brief, it meant the world to Herman to spend these last three days surrounded by the love of his family and friends.