US fugitive wants to serve time in Portugal

Forbes.com on August 30, 2011 released the following:

“By BARRY HATTON

LISBON, Portugal — An American killer and alleged hijacker who was a fugitive for 41 years should serve the rest of his jail time in Portugal where he was captured instead of being extradited to the United States, his lawyer says.

George Wright, 68, deserves to serve the remainder of his 15- to 30-year New Jersey murder sentence in Portugal because he has lived in the country for decades, has a Portuguese wife and grown Portuguese children, said the lawyer, Manuel Luis Ferreira.

“If he has to serve, then he wants it to be here, which is his home,” Ferreira told Portugal’s TVI television late Thursday.

Wright broke out of the Bayside State Prison in Leesburg, New Jersey, on Aug. 19, 1970, after serving about 7 1/2 years of his sentence for killing a man in a 1962 gas station robbery. He then was part of a Black Liberation Army group that hijacked a U.S. plane to Algeria in 1972.

Wright was captured in a seaside village near Lisbon on Monday after authorities matched his fingerprint on a Portuguese identity card to one in the United States.

Ferreira said Wright will oppose extradition on the ground that he fears reprisals for his past membership in the militant U.S. group. He did not elaborate.

He said his client had been living openly in Portugal and even had a Facebook page.

“He wasn’t running. He wasn’t hiding,” Ferreira told TVI.

But Ferreira didn’t mention that Wright lived in Portugal under the alias Jose Luis Jorge dos Santos, which was listed on his Portuguese residency card.

Wright’s children, said to be in their early 20s, knew nothing about his past until his capture this week, according to Ferreira.

Ann Patterson, whose father Walter was killed by Wright, said she wanted him sent back to the United States.

“I honestly think he should serve (his sentence) where he did the crime,” she told The Associated Press. “I feel sorry for his children. I would not wish them to go through what my sister and I went through. He chose the crime and when you choose the crime you choose the punishment that goes with it.”

U.S. Justice Department spokeswoman Laura Sweeney declined to comment on the defense counsel’s arguments due to the pending nature of the extradition request.

Ferreira did not outline his legal strategy for trying to prevent Wright from being extradited to face charges in the plane hijacking. He said Friday that he was too busy to discuss the case.

U.S. officials so far have only discussed Wright’s past murder conviction, not any possible future charges from the hijacking.

Hijacking in the United States carries a possible penalty of life in prison, and Portugal does not allow people to be extradited if they will face more than the nation’s maximum sentence of 25 years.

Under Portuguese law, citizens can serve sentences handed down in a foreign country in Portugal. But Portuguese officials say there is doubt about the validity of Wright’s identification documents and whether he is a national. They declined to elaborate because public access to information about court cases is restricted.

A photocopy of a Portuguese identity card issued to Wright in 1993 listed his home country as Guinea-Bissau, where he lived in the 1980s. A foreigner marrying a Portuguese is entitled to Portuguese nationality, but has to formally request it and it is not known whether Wright did.

Wright – dressed as a priest and using an alias – is accused of hijacking a Delta flight from Detroit to Miami in 1972 along with four other Black Liberation Army members and some children.

Wright arrived in Portugal in 1978, his attorney said. Wright also spent years in the 1980s living openly under his own name in Guinea-Bissau, a former Portuguese colony in West Africa, and even socialized with U.S. embassy officials there.

Ferreira said he marveled at Wright’s saga, which covered three continents and four decades.

“This story would make a television series. I’m still trying to digest it myself,” he said.

Wright is being held in Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, pending extradition hearings and will likely remain in detention for at least several weeks during the hearings, according to the president of the Lisbon court overseeing the case. Wright has asked to be freed during the process, a request that is still pending.

If he loses, he can appeal the extradition decision to Portugal’s Supreme Court and the country’s Constitutional Court, a process likely to last months or even years, the judge, Luis Maria Vaz das Neves, told The AP.

A recent high-profile extradition case involving an Indian terror suspect took years to resolve.

Abu Salem, arrested in Portugal in September 2002, was a prime suspect in 1993 bombings that struck Bombay, killing 257 people and wounding more than 1,100. He was extradited three years later after his appeals to higher courts failed.

But to get Portugal to extradite Salem, India had to promise to forgo the death penalty and impose a prison term of 25 years or less if he’s convicted, Indian officials said.

Wright was convicted of the 1962 murder of a gas station owner in Wall, New Jersey.

In the 1972 hijacking, Wright and the other Black Liberation Army members released the plane’s 86 other passengers for a $1 million ransom. They then forced the plane to fly to Boston, then onto Algeria, where the hijackers sought asylum. Algeria returned the plane and the money to the United States but allowed the hijackers to stay.

Wright and the other hijackers left Algeria in late 1972 or early 1973 and settled in France, according to Mikhael Ganouna, producer of the 2010 documentary “Nobody Knows my Name” about the hijacking.

But Wright left the group, and his associates were subsequently tracked down, arrested and convicted in Paris in 1976. The French government, however, refused to extradite them to the United States.

Douglas McNabb, a Washington-based lawyer who has defended people in extradition cases for more than 20 years, said he expects the U.S. to add some charges related to the hijacking to make an example of Wright.

“This taints the U.S’s, image that someone could be gone and not found as long as he was,” McNabb said.

However, Danielle Hunter, a spokeswoman for the New Jersey Department of Corrections, said there has not been talk so far of adding charges relating to Wright’s prison escape.

Norris Gelman, the Philadelphia lawyer who represented Ira Einhorn, who fled the U.S. in 1981 just before a trial for the murder of his ex-girlfriend in 1977 and was returned to the U.S. in 2001, said he expects authorities to pursue Wright to the end now that they have found him.

The U.S. “will move heaven and earth to get him back here, and I believe they will be successful. If they have to do it through diplomacy, they will do it through diplomacy,” he said. “I will tell you on good authority, time will not heal this wound.””

To find additional global criminal news, please read The Global Criminal Defense Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition and OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal.

The author of this blog is Douglas McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.

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