Portugal Court Refuses to Send U.S. Fugitive Home

The U.S. government's request to have George Wright extradicted has been denied.

Posted: 11/17/2011 11:17 AM EST
Portuguese court denied a U.S. request for the extradition of captured American fugitive George Wright.

In this October 2011 file photo George Wright smiles while standing by the door of his house in Almocageme, outside Lisbon. (Photo: AP Photo/Armando Franca, file)

LISBON, Portugal (AP) — A Portuguese court has denied a U.S. request for the extradition of captured American fugitive George Wright, his lawyer said Thursday.

The U.S. wants Wright returned to serve the rest of his 15- to 30-year jail sentence for a 1962 killing in New Jersey. Wright was captured in Portugal in September after more than four decades on the run.

Wright's lawyer, Manuel Luis Ferreira, told The Associated Press by telephone the court rejected the U.S. bid.

Ferreira said the judge accepted his arguments that Wright is now Portuguese and that the statute of limitations on the killing had expired. He declined to provide further details, saying he would speak to the media later in the day. Court officials couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

The U.S. Justice Department, which can appeal the decision to a higher Portuguese court, did not immediately reply to a request for comment. Wright spent seven years in a U.S. prison for the New Jersey murder before escaping in 1970, and was on the run for 41 years until his arrest.

Wright has been under house arrest for the past four weeks at his home near Lisbon, wearing an electronic tag that monitors his movements. He had initially been held in a Lisbon jail.

Wright was captured in the seaside village where he has lived since 1993 after authorities matched his fingerprint on a Portuguese identity card to one in the U.S.

Ferreira previously told The AP he would argue Wright is now a Portuguese citizen and should be allowed to serve the remainder of his sentence in Portugal, where his wife and two grown children live.

Wright received Portuguese citizenship through his 1991 marriage to a Portuguese woman and 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 when it granted him citizenship, according to his lawyer.

Wright broke out of Bayside State Prison in Leesburg, New Jersey, 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 say.

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.

From Our Partners