Portugal Judge Won’t Extradite NJ Hijacker Fugitive George Wright
LISBON, Portugal - Portugal won't extradite American fugitive George Wright to the United States for crimes he committed there four decades ago, after the U.S. ran out of possibilities to appeal the decision to let him stay, a Portuguese court official said Wednesday.
Portuguese police captured the 68-year-old George Wright near the capital, Lisbon, in September, ending his more than 40 years on the lam after escaping from a New Jersey prison.
A Lisbon court in November refused a U.S. request to send Wright back to serve the rest of his 15- to 30-year sentence for the 1962 killing of a gas station attendant during a robbery in New Jersey. A judge ruled that the statute of limitations had expired.
Portugal's Supreme Court twice rejected U.S. appeals of that decision. The United States did not use its last chance of appeal to Portugal's Constitutional Court by last week's deadline, senior Judge Luis Maria Vaz das Neves said.
"This case is now closed," Vaz das Neves told The Associated Press by telephone.
"There was only one chance of appeal left -- to the Constitutional Court -- and the (U.S.) lawyers didn't take it," said Vaz das Neves, who has overseen the case.
The case "will be put on a shelf here somewhere," he said from his office.
The U.S. Department of Justice, contacted by email, made no immediate comment.
Vaz das Neves said the U.S. would need to find other grounds for an extradition request, such as a crime committed more recently, to reopen the case.
The U.S. also accuses Wright of being among a group of Black Liberation Army militants that hijacked a plane in 1972 from the U.S. to Algeria.
Vaz das Neves said the Portuguese statute of limitations on that alleged crime had also expired.
Wright's Portuguese lawyer, Manuel Luis Ferreira, said: "I'm happy. Justice has been done."
He told the AP his client would be making no immediate comment. He said Wright is considering offers for a book and film about his life. The lawyer declined to elaborate.
The rulings by the Portuguese courts also accepted that Wright is now a Portuguese citizen. He has lived in Portugal, in a seaside village near Lisbon, since 1993 with his Portuguese wife and two children, and he uses the name Jose Luis Jorge dos Santos. Wright got Portuguese citizenship through his 1991 marriage to a Portuguese woman.
He was captured in Portugal after his U.S. fingerprint matched one in Portugal's database of prints for all citizens.
Wright went to Guinea-Bissau, a former Portuguese colony, after the 1972 hijacking. The West African country, then run by a Marxist government, granted him political asylum in the 1980s, made him a citizen and gave him his new name.
Wright spent seven years in a U.S. prison for murder before escaping in 1970.
His life on the run began when he broke out of Bayside State Prison in Leesburg, N.J., on Aug. 19, 1970, and made his way to Detroit, where he joined the Black Liberation Army. Dressed as a priest, he hijacked a Delta flight to Miami with four others, using handguns they smuggled onto the plane.
After releasing the plane's 86 passengers for $1 million, the hijackers forced it to fly to Boston, then to Algeria, where they sought asylum.
Algeria gave the money and plane back to the U.S., and Wright and his comrades went underground, settling in France. The others were captured and convicted of hijacking in Paris, but radical French sympathizers helped Wright escape.
Wright met his future wife, Maria do Rosario Valente, in Lisbon in 1978.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)