Archive for Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Freed prisoner forced into seclusion by threats

January 18, 2005


— Confessed killer and civil rights figure Wilbert Rideau received what his legal team described as two convincing threats on his life Monday and was in seclusion, limiting his contact with people outside a close circle of supporters.

"I am in an undisclosed location," Rideau said in a telephone interview Monday night. "And I would appreciate you keeping it that way."

Ron Ware, a Lake Charles attorney and a member of Rideau's defense team, said Rideau's Web site had received at least a dozen vitriolic e-mails in response to his release from prison over the weekend.

Two of the e-mails stood out and were considered "very serious" threats on his life, said Linda LaBranche, a legal researcher from Baton Rouge who runs the Web site and assisted in the lengthy effort to win Rideau's release.

LaBranche spoke to the FBI and the Baton Rouge Police Department on Monday.

Rideau, 62, walked out of prison early Sunday morning after spending nearly 44 years behind bars. He has never denied kidnapping three people during a February 1961 bank robbery in Lake Charles and killing one of them, teller Julia Ferguson.

Rideau was sentenced to die three times by all-white juries -- in 1961, 1964 and 1970 -- but each conviction was thrown out. The third conviction was overturned in 2000 when the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with his attorneys that blacks had been improperly kept off the grand jury that initially indicted him. It was one of many instances when Rideau's attorneys argued that pervasive racism in Louisiana kept him from receiving a fair trial.

When Rideau faced his fourth trial earlier this month, his attorneys were armed with extensive testimony that racism had shaded the case against him.

Saturday, a jury agreed with his defense attorneys that he was not guilty of murder but of manslaughter, because the killing was not premeditated. The maximum sentence for manslaughter is 21 years, so Rideau was credited with time already served in prison and released immediately.

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