View Full Version : Article: Louisiana man returns home after nearly 44 years in prison

01-18-2005, 08:09 AM
Louisiana man returns home after nearly 44 years in prison

Published Monday, January 17, 2005
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - A quietly jubilant Wilbert Rideau savored his first weekend as a free man since John F. Kennedy was president.

"This is all new to me. Iím writing a new chapter," he said.

Rideau was a janitor and high school dropout when he held up a bank in 1961, just days after his 19th birthday, and killed a white woman. "I donít even know him anymore," he told The Associated Press yesterday.

Rideau, a black man convicted three times in the case by all-white juries, became an award-winning journalist during more than four decades in the nationís bloodiest prison - the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola. He was released Saturday when a racially mixed jury found him guilty of a lesser charge of manslaughter.

Since he spent nearly 44 years in prison, Rideau immediately was released. He had served more than double the 21-year maximum for manslaughter when the crime occurred.

Jurors effectively decided Rideau had been punished enough for Julia Fergusonís slaying, a crime that still divides his native Lake Charles along racial lines. Rideau left for Baton Rouge yesterday morning, and his supporters said they were worried for his safety because of sentiments surrounding the case.

Staying at a friendís home, Rideau said he had no firm plans.

Rideau, 62, never denied he killed Ferguson on Feb. 16, 1961, after kidnapping three employees from the Gulf National Bank. Having shot his captives as they tried to get away, he stabbed Ferguson when she struggled to stand. Testifying for the first time in this trial, he said it was an act of panic.

The defense presented a picture of 1960s-era racism in Lake Charles, tying it to sensational details in the case - some of which later came into question. In 2000, a federal appeals court said his original 1961 indictment was flawed because blacks were excluded from the grand jury.

Prosecutors dismissed Rideauís contention that, although he killed Ferguson, he did not intend to murder her. But after deliberating for nearly six hours, the jury of eight whites and four blacks agreed with him the crime was not premeditated.


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