A woman convicted in the killing 40 years ago of a New Jersey State Police trooper as a member of the Black Liberation Army has been named to the FBI's "Most Wanted Terrorist" list — the first woman ever to make the list.
Joanne Chesimard, convicted in the shooting death of Trooper Werner Foerster, is not only the first woman named as a Most Wanted Terrorist, but only the second domestic terrorist to be added to the list.
"Joanne Chesimard is a domestic terrorist who murdered a law enforcement officer execution-style," said Aaron Ford, special agent in charge of our Newark N.J., field office. "Today, on the anniversary of Trooper Werner Foerster's death, we want the public to know that we will not rest until this fugitive is brought to justice."
Officials from the FBI and the New Jersey State Police made the announcement Friday during a news conference, noting that the FBI is offering a reward of up to $1 million for information leading to the apprehension of Chesimard, who is believed to be living in Cuba under political asylum. Additionally, the state of New Jersey is offering an independent reward of up to $1 million.
"This case is just as important today as it was when it happened 40 years ago," added Mike Rinaldi, a lieutenant in the New Jersey State Police and member of our Joint Terrorism Task Force in Newark. "Bringing Joanne Chesimard back here to face justice is still a top priority."
On May 2, 1973, Chesimard and a pair of accomplices were stopped by two troopers for a motor vehicle violation on the New Jersey Turnpike. At the time, Chesimard — a member of the violent revolutionary activist organization known as the Black Liberation Army — was wanted in connection with several felonies, including bank robbery.
The FBI said Chesimard and her accomplices opened fire on the troopers. One officer was wounded, and his partner — Foerster — was shot and killed at point-blank range. One of Chesimard's accomplices was killed in the shootout and the other was arrested and remains in jail. Chesimard fled the scene but was apprehended.
In 1977, she was found guilty of first-degree murder, armed robbery and other crimes and was sentenced to life in prison. Less than two years later, she escaped from prison and lived underground before surfacing in Cuba in 1984.
"This crime was always considered an act of domestic terrorism," said Lt. Rinaldi, who has been working the case for six years with other members of the Joint Terrorism Task Force. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, he said the Black Liberation Army was a "radical left-wing terror group that felt justified killing law enforcement officers. Throughout the '70s," Lt. Rinaldi added, "this group conducted assaults on police stations and murdered police officers."
Chesimard's 1979 escape from prison was well planned, Lt. Rinaldi said.
"Armed domestic terrorists gained entry into the facility, neutralized the guards, broke her free, and turned her over to a nearby getaway team," he said.
Although Chesimard has been granted asylum in Cuba, Lt. Rinaldi described the investigation as "active," adding that it "will continue as such until Chesimard is apprehended."
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