Who is the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition?

Our mission is to reverse the trend of mass incarceration in Colorado. We are a coalition of nearly 7,000 individual members and over 100 faith and community organizations who have united to stop perpetual prison expansion in Colorado through policy and sentence reform.

Our chief areas of interest include drug policy reform, women in prison, racial injustice, the impact of incarceration on children and families, the problems associated with re-entry and stopping the practice of using private prisons in our state.

If you would like to be involved please go to our website and become a member.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Love, Death and Questions In The South's Bloodiest Prison

JEANERETTE, LA. — Thirty-six years have passed since she saw him last, but Leontine Verrett has never forgotten the face of the man she still calls her true love. His name was Brent Miller. He was lean and cocksure and strummed his guitar a little too loud.

Their romance blossomed on the grounds of the Louisiana State Penitentiary, the plantation turned prison built along a bend of the Mississippi River. He came from a clan where men had served as prison guards for generations. She was one of 12 children who moved there when their father got a job running the prison's sugar mill.

The lovers married on Feb. 5, 1972 -- he was 23, she was just 16. Two months later, the bride nicknamed Teenie got a call that there had been "an accident" at Angola, as the prison is known. She was a widow.

Miller had been stabbed 32 times and left in a prison dormitory in a pool of blood. Teenie's brother, who was also a guard, said Miller looked like he was wearing a red shirt. Horrified, he never returned to the job. Teenie soon learned that black militants stood accused of killing her husband, a random victim of what prison officials said was an inmate plot to murder a white man. She wanted the culprits to suffer and die. But unlike Miller's family, who crammed the courtrooms where the inmates were tried, she could not bear to sit and listen to the gruesome details.

"I didn't want to know," Verrett, now 52, said as her eyes misted up. "That was a lot to deal with at 17 years old. I trusted [the authorities] to do the right thing."

Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox, Black Panthers from New Orleans who were serving time for armed robberies, were convicted of Miller's murder. The widow did her best to go on, moving to Jeanerette, an industrial town in the heart of Cajun country about two hours south of the prison. Two years later, she married Dean Verrett, who loved her despite her feelings for Miller, and they had three children. She began working at a beauty parlor, where she still works today.

Then 2 1/2 years ago, Billie Mizell, a legal investigator and fledgling author, showed up at Verrett's home near the banks of the Bayou Teche. She said she wanted to talk about Miller's murder.

What Mizell told Verrett stunned her. A bloody fingerprint found at the scene did not match Woodfox or Wallace. There was never any physical evidence linking them to the crime.

They'd been held in separate 6-by-9-foot cells for nearly every hour of every day. Supporters called their conditions solitary confinement; prison officials strongly disagreed. (The men were moved to a prison dormitory in March after nearly 36 years.)

Mizell said the star witness against Woodfox and Wallace, a repeat sex offender serving a life sentence, was promised freedom for his testimony -- a deal that the prosecution never disclosed to the defense. He was later transferred to another building where guards plied him with cigarettes, a prized jailhouse currency.

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