LISBON, Portugal (AP) — The U.S. Department of Justice announced Tuesday it has appealed a Portuguese judge's decision denying the extradition of an American fugitive who spent 41 years on the lam on three continents.
The appeal to extradite George Wright was filed with the Portuguese Court of Appeals, but U.S. Department of Justice spokeswoman Laura Sweeney declined to provide the legal arguments for it because in Portugal extradition cases are conducted in secret.
Wright's lawyer, Manuel Luis Ferreira, declined to comment on the appeal, saying he had not been officially informed of it.
Wright, his Portuguese wife and their two grown children were jubilant Nov. 17 when a Portuguese judge decided against Wright's extradition. The judge ruled that Wright, 68, had become a Portuguese citizen and that the statute of limitations on his 15- to 30-year sentence for a robbery-murder in New Jersey had expired, Ferreira said.
Wright spent seven years in a U.S. prison for murder before escaping in 1970. He then hijacked a plane in 1972 from the U.S. to Algeria along with other Black Liberation Army militants. He was captured in Portugal after his U.S. fingerprint matched one in Portugal's database of prints for all citizens.
Authorities say Wright and three associates had already committed multiple armed robberies on Nov. 23, 1962, when Walter Patterson was shot dead in his gas station in Wall, N.J.
But Wright insisted after his extradition was denied that he never fired a shot in the holdup and pleaded "no defense" to the murder charge because his lawyer advised him to do so to avoid the death penalty.
Wright, who is black, also admitted hijacking the plane "to fight for black rights ... to support the hopes of black people" but said he now is a changed man.
Ann Patterson, the 63-year-old daughter of the gas station owner, said Tuesday that she was pleased American authorities had appealed and hoped it would be successful.
Wright was taken into custody in September in the seaside village near Lisbon where he has lived since 1993 and jailed for about two weeks until a judge released him under house arrest.
Wright's fugitive odyssey 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 snuck on the plane.
After releasing the plane's 86 passengers for $1 million, the hijackers forced the plane 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 to Portugal.
Wright met his future wife, Maria do Rosario Valente, in Lisbon in 1978. The couple moved in the early 1980s to Guinea-Bissau, a former Portuguese colony, where Wright lived openly using his real name and socialized with U.S. diplomats and embassy personnel who told The Associated Press they were unaware of his past.
Guinea-Bissau granted him political asylum in the 1980s, made him a citizen and gave him the new name Jose Luis Jorge dos Santos, complete with fake names for his parents.
Wright then got Portuguese citizenship through his 1991 marriage to a Portuguese woman. His identity from Guinea-Bissau was accepted by Portugal when it granted him citizenship, according to his lawyer.
He and his wife moved back to Portugal in 1993 to the tiny town of Almocageme, 28 miles (45 kilometers) from Lisbon. Wright then worked a series of jobs — as a painter, a nightclub bouncer and a barbecue chicken restaurant manager — as they raised two children.
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