Portuguese Court Places American Fugitive Under House Arrest

A court has allowed captured American fugitive George Wright to leave jail and stay at his Portuguese home while he fights extradition to the United States, his lawyer said Friday.

A judge hearing the case released Wright from custody on condition he remain at his house and wear an electronic tag that monitors his movements, lawyer Manuel Luis Ferreira said.

Wright spent seven years in a U.S. prison for a 1962 murder in New Jersey before escaping in 1970. He was on the run for 41 years until his arrest in Portugal almost three weeks ago. Wright had been held in a Lisbon jail since he was caught.

The United States is trying to extradite him to serve the rest of his 15- to 30-year sentence.

Portuguese broadcaster SIC showed Wright on Friday arriving at his home in Almocageme, a hamlet about 25 miles from Lisbon, Portugal’s capital. Wright was escorted into the house by two police officers. He kissed his Portuguese wife, Maria do Rosario Valente, who was waiting at the front door.

“He wants to say … that he doesn’t intend to run away. He just wants to spend his life here with his family,” Ferreira said.

Ferreira contends that Wright is now a Portuguese citizen and should be allowed to serve the remainder of his sentence in Portugal.

U.S. Justice Department spokeswoman Laura Sweeney declined to comment.

Wright was captured in the village after authorities matched his fingerprint on a Portuguese identity card to one in the United States. Locals say Wright spoke fluent Portuguese and was a regular churchgoer who lived from odd jobs.

The judge overseeing the case may call witnesses before announcing his decision on extradition in coming weeks. That decision can be appealed to higher courts, and the entire process could take months or longer.

Wright got Portuguese citizenship through marriage in 1991 after Guinea-Bissau, a former Portuguese colony in West Africa, gave him the new name of “Jose Luis Jorge dos Santos” and made him a citizen.

The identity from Guinea-Bissau was granted after the country gave Wright political asylum in the 1980s, and that was accepted by Portugal, according to the lawyer.

Wright broke out of Bayside State Prison in Leesburg, N.J., on Aug. 19, 1970. In 1972, Wright — dressed as a priest and using an alias — hijacked a Delta flight from Detroit to Miami along with others, police said. After releasing the plane’s 86 other passengers for a $1 million ransom, the hijackers forced the plane to fly to Boston, then to Algeria, where the hijackers sought asylum.

This article was written by Barry Hatton and published by the Kansas City Star October 14, 2011.


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