US fugitive wants to serve time in Portugal
LISBON - The lawyer for a captured American fugitive said his client wants to serve the rest of his jail time in Portugal, but legal experts predicted yesterday that US prosecutors will “move heaven and earth’’ to get him back into the American justice system.
Lawyer Manuel Luis Ferreira 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 and has a Portuguese wife and grown children.
“If he has to serve, then he wants it to be here, which is his home,’’ Ferreira told Portugal’s TVI television.
US Justice Department spokeswoman Laura Sweeney declined to comment yesterday on the defense counsel’s arguments due to the pending extradition request against Wright. American lawyers who are experts on extradition said they expect an intense effort by US officials to ensure Wright’s return after 41 years on the lam.
Justice Department lawyers “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,’’ said Philadelphia lawyer Norris Gelman.
Gelman represented Ira Einhorn, who was extradited to the United States from France in 2001 and convicted of murder after fleeing abroad in 1981.
Wright broke out of Bayside State Prison in Leesburg, N.J., on Aug. 19, 1970, after serving over 7 years of his sentence for killing a man in a 1962 gas station robbery. He was also part of a Black Liberation Army group that hijacked a 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. Until his arrest, Wright had spent decades living with his wife and children in the hamlet near Lisbon, Portugal’s capital.
Wright is being held in Lisbon, pending extradition hearings. He has asked to be set free, a request that is still pending. If the United States wins the extradition request, Wright can appeal that decision to Portugal’s Supreme Court and the country’s Constitutional Court, a process that could last years.
Ferreira said Wright will oppose extradition on the grounds that he fears reprisals for his membership in the militant group.
The United States has requested extradition based on Wright’s murder conviction, not any possible future charges for the hijacking or prison escape.