NEW ORLEANS — Louisiana can keep ''Angola Three'' inmate Albert Woodfox in jail and continue its plans to try him a third time in the 1972 killing of a prison guard, a federal appeals court ruled Monday.
The 2-to-1 decision by the Fifth US Circuit Court of Appeals reverses a June order by US District Judge James Brady that ordered Woodfox's release and barred a third trial, saying the state could not try Woodfox fairly more than 40 years after the killing of guard Brent Miller.
The Fifth Circuit disagreed.
''The district court abused its discretion by barring retrial and by granting the extraordinary remedy of an unconditional writ,'' Judge Carolyn Dineen King wrote for the majority. She was joined by Judge Priscilla Owen.
Woodfox, 68, has consistently maintained his innocence in Miller's death. He is being held at the West Feliciana Parish Detention Center. He is the last still-incarcerated member of a group that supporters dubbed the ''Angola Three'' for their decades-long stays in isolation at the Louisiana Penitentiary at Angola and other state prisons.
Miller's widow, Teenie Rogers, has also pressed for Woodfox's release, saying she no longer believes he was responsible. And Amnesty International and the United Nations have condemned Woodfox's imprisonment as inhumane. Human rights advocates call it a form of torture.
Judge James L. Dennis, in a dissent, said Brady's ruling should be upheld. ''If ever a case justifiably could be considered to present 'exceptional circumstances' barring reprosecution, this is that case,'' he wrote.
In an e-mail, Aaron Sadler, a spokesman for Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell's office, said they were reviewing the ruling ''and are continuing to move forward with retrial based on this decision." Caldwell's office has denied that Woodfox was held in strict solitary confinement and said Woodfox has been allowed visitors and reading material, could see a television through cell bars and can communicate with others.
Woodfox's lawyer, George Kendall, said in a statement they were disappointed with the ruling.
Brady had noted that 43 years have passed since the crime, key witnesses have died and there is no physical evidence linking Woodfox to the stabbing.