ALMOCAGEME, Portugal — The wife of captured American fugitive George
Wright said Friday her husband has a litany of health problems requiring
treatment and should not be extradited to the United States to serve the
rest of his time on a murder conviction after 41 years on the lam.
Maria do Rosario Valente said in an interview with The Associated Press at
their home that Wright suffers from glaucoma, "very, very high" blood
pressure caused by recent stress, and has complained of chest pains. She
also said he regrets his criminal past.
"We're having a bunch of tests done to see what's his current health
condition," Valente said.
She added: "He regrets the choices he ... made. If he could, probably he'd
have made different choices."
Wright, tall and slim with his head shaved bald, did not participate in
the interview because of Portuguese court restrictions that prevent him
from talking about the case. After it was over, he kissed her and made
small talk about matters unrelated to his legal battle.
Wright's lawyer, Manuel Luis Ferreira, said he will include his client's
health problems in legal arguments aimed at preventing him from being sent
to the United States to serve the rest of a 15- to 30-year jail sentence
for the 1962 killing of a New Jersey gas station worker.
"I didn't initially realize how bad off he was," Ferreira told the AP
Friday. "Now that I've gotten to know him, I know his problems."
U.S. Justice Department spokeswoman Laura Sweeney declined comment via
email on what impact Wright's health could have on the extradition
process, which could last months.
Wright, 68, was convicted of the murder of Walter Patterson in Wall
Township, N.J... He escaped from the Bayside State Prison in Leesburg, New
Jersey, in 1970 after serving more than seven years. The FBI says says
Wright also was part of a Black Liberation Army group that hijacked a U.S.
plane from Detroit Metropolitan Airport to Algeria in 1972.
The rest of the group was arrested in France, but Wright made his way to
Portugal, and met Valente in the late 1970s in Portugal. The two later
moved to the tiny West African nation of Guinea-Bissau, a former
Portuguese colony, where the country's then-Marxist leaders granted him
asylum and a new identity.
Wright lived openly using his real name in Guinea-Bissau and even
socialized with American diplomats, but one former ambassador who served
in the country while Wright and other U.S. diplomats were based there has
told the AP they did not know about his past.
His wife worked for years as a freelance translator for the U.S. embassy
in the country's capital, Bissau, and Wright was a logistics coordinator
for a Belgian nonprofit development group until the couple moved back to
Portugal in 1993.
Valente said her husband has become a more peaceful man since his days as
a militant. She showed the AP photographs of paintings by Wright and art
work at local buildings — a skill which has allowed him to earn money in
Portugal among other odd jobs he's done over the years.
She spoke to the AP in English in the kitchen of the home she has shared
with Wright for almost since they left Guinea-Bissau, at the end of a
cobblestone street in a pretty hamlet on the Atlantic coast near a
stunning beach and about 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the Portuguese
capital of Lisbon.
The FBI says it requested Wright's detention after providing fingerprints
to Portuguese authorities that matched his contained in a national
fingerprint database for all citizens and residents. He was initially
jailed, but a judge allowed him to return home wearing an electronic tag
that monitors his movements and would alert authorities if he ventures
outside his house.
Neighbors describe Wright as a friendly, churchgoing family man. He has a
grown daughter and son with Valente. Some assumed he was from Africa when
he moved here.
"If ... the purpose of sending someone to jail is to rehabilitate them,
then that job is done," Valente said.
The main argument from Wright's lawyer for him to stay in Portugal is his
Portuguese citizenship — and a law from the country that allows Portuguese
convicted of crimes to serve their time at home.
The citizenship is based on his new identity from Guinea-Bissau, and the
name he was given: "Jose Luis Jorge dos Santos."
Armed with that, he married Valente in 1990, and used his new identity and
the marriage to convince Portuguese authorities to give him citizenship.
Ann Patterson, daughter of the man killed in New Jersey, declined comment
Friday on Wright's health problems but said she still wants him returned
to serve his sentence.
"Our world has been turned upside down," said Patterson, 63. "We've now
had to grieve for our father for the second time when we never should have
had to the first time."
AP reporter Geoff Mulvihill in Haddonfield, N.J., contributed to this report.