LISBON, Portugal — The wife of captured American fugitive George Wright said her husband told her he escaped from a U.S. jail but never revealed he had been convicted of murder or accused of a dramatic airplane hijacking.
Maria do Rosario Valente said she was shocked to learn about her husband’s past after his capture in Portugal last week after 41 years on the lam. She said she thought the jail escape “was just a boast.”
“Now I’ve found out the rest,” she told Portugal’s TVI television in an interview broadcast late Sunday.
The U.S. is trying to extradite Wright to serve the remainder of his 15- to 30-year sentence for a 1962 murder in New Jersey. The FBI also says he was part of a Black Liberation Army group that hijacked a U.S. plane to Algeria in 1972.
Wright’s lawyer says the American will claim a new identity to prevent the U.S. from extraditing him. The lawyer, Manuel Luis Ferreira, told The AP that Wright became a Portuguese citizen called Jose Luis Jorge dos Santos in 1991 after marrying Valente and fathering two children.
Wright’s new identity was given to him by Guinea-Bissau’s government when it granted him political asylum in the 1980s, and that was accepted by Portugal, Ferreira said. At the time, Guinea-Bissau was a single-party Marxist state that looked kindly on black liberation movements.
Jonatas Machado, a law professor at Portugal’s Coimbra University, said Monday that Portuguese citizenship is no guarantee against extradition to the U.S.
However, if the Lisbon court accepts Wright’s new identity it will be predisposed towards allowing him to serve his remaining time in his adopted country where his family lives.
“The important thing is that he’s Portuguese, and there’s a constitutional presumption against extraditing Portuguese citizens,” Machado told The AP.
“For the U.S. that’s a hotspot,” Machado said.
No dates for future court sessions have yet been set, though Ferreira is due to send the judge his written arguments against extradition on Thursday. The court has ruled that Wright should be held until further notice.
“I didn’t really think much of it,” she told TVI. “I thought it was just a boast.”
Wright broke out of the Bayside State Prison in Leesburg, New Jersey, on Aug. 19, 1970, after serving more than seven years of his sentence for killing a man in a 1962 gas station robbery. He was captured in a seaside village near Lisbon last week after decades on the run, and is being detained in the Portuguese capital while the court rules on his extradition.