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La. Prison Journalist Re-Indicted

July 20, 2001

LAKE CHARLES, La. (AP) _ Award-winning jailhouse journalist Wilbert Rideau, whose conviction for the 1961 murder of a bank teller had been overturned, was charged anew with the crime Thursday.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the conviction and sent the case back to state court in December, saying blacks had been improperly excluded from the grand jury which indicted Rideau, who is black.

When prosecutors lost their effort to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, they vowed to try Rideau all over again rather than let him go free.

They charged Rideau, longtime editor of the award-winning prison magazine ``The Angolite,″ with robbery, kidnapping and the murder of bank teller Julia Ferguson. No trial date was set.

Rideau is at the state penitentiary and could not be reached for comment.

Sentenced to death for three separate crimes, Rideau won reversals of his first two convictions. After his third conviction, he was spared from Louisiana’s electric chair when the U.S. Supreme Court declared existing death penalty laws unconstitutional in the 1970s.

His sentence commuted to life in prison, Rideau became a model for rehabilitation efforts, rising to the editorship of the prison magazine and winning numerous awards.

While Rideau has never challenged accounts of the crime, Bryant said there will be several problems in prosecuting the case a second time.

Bank employee Dora McCain, who was stabbed and shot and survived to testify, is the only witness still alive. The other victim, bank employee Jay Hickman, died a few years ago.

Authorities said Rideau took McCain, Hickman and Ferguson to a remote location after robbing a bank of $14,000.

Ferguson’s throat was slit after she begged for mercy. McCain played dead; Hickman ran into woods.

Evidence lost since 1970 include the weapons used in the crime, and the taped confession. Ten other witnesses have died since the trial.

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