Saturday, February 04, 2012

Portugal denies 2nd US appeal for fugitive return

LISBON, Portugal — Portugal's Supreme Court has refused a second appeal by the U.S. to extradite American fugitive George Wright.

A court ruling provided to The Associated Press on Wednesday showed judges confirmed a decision last month to deny a U.S. appeal for extradition. They issued their ruling Tuesday without providing details.

The U.S. can lodge a final appeal at the Constitutional Court in Lisbon.

Portuguese police captured the 68-year-old Wright near the capital Lisbon last September, ending his four decades on the lam after escaping from a New Jersey prison.

A lower court judge ruled in November that Wright had become a Portuguese citizen and that, under Portuguese law, the statute of limitations on his 15- to 30-year sentence for a robbery-murder in New Jersey had expired. It consequently refused to send him back to the U.S.

The Supreme Court judges wrote in Tuesday's decision that the U.S. arguments "did not invalidate" the earlier ruling.

In Portugal, foreign authorities must present their extradition request through the local Public Prosecutor's office.

However, the Portuguese Public Prosecutor decided against an appeal. Its reasons for doing so were not made public. In Portugal, extradition cases are conducted in secret.

The Supreme Court consequently ruled that it was not legally permissible for the U.S. to appeal alone, rejecting the appeal on procedural grounds.

Wright's Portuguese lawyer, Manuel Luis Ferreira, told The AP he had not yet seen the Supreme Court ruling and declined to comment.

However, he said that Wright was "happy" with the decision. "It's good for us," Ferreira said by telephone.

Wright, now called Jorge Luis dos Santos after changing his name, is married to a Portuguese woman and has two grown children. They have lived near Lisbon since 1993.

Wright spent seven years in a U.S. prison for gunning down a man during a 1962 gas station robbery in New Jersey. Wright and others broke out of prison in 1970. He was among a group that hijacked a plane in 1972 from the U.S. to Algeria along with other Black Liberation Army militants.

Guinea-Bissau, a former Portuguese colony in West Africa, granted him political asylum in the 1980s when it was run by a Marxist government. Wright then got Portuguese citizenship through his 1991 marriage to a Portuguese woman.

Wright was captured in Portugal after his U.S. fingerprint matched one in Portugal's database of prints for all citizens, according to U.S. officials.

The daughter of Walter Paterson, the man killed during the New Jersey holdup, said Wednesday the latest decision sounded to her like more of the same though she hadn't learned the details yet.

"I would always hope that they would do what is right," said Ann Patterson, 63, of Howell, New Jersey.


Geoff Mulvihill in Haddonfield, New Jersey, contributed to this report.

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