In the case of former US citizen, George Wright, Portugal’s Supreme Court ruled to deny an appeal made by the US Justice Department, shortly before Christmas. With its appeal, registered four weeks ago, the USA was seeking the extradition of the former Black Panther Party militant. A court in Lisbon had already refused extradition, November 17, 2011. The court’s refusal was based on Wright’s valid Portuguese citizenship. Wright has been living with his Portuguese wife for more than 20 years near Lisbon, under the name Jorge Dos Santos and has two adult children. The refusal was also based on the fact that, in the meantime, the USA’s penal claims have surpassed the statute of limitations.
The Supreme Court found no legal error in this reasoning and confirmed the extradition refusal. “The Supreme Court has informed me today of its decision,” declared Wright’s defense counsel, Manuel Luis Ferreira, last Friday to Associated Press. There were no further details from the court, because, in Portugal, extradition cases are conducted in secret. The USA has recourse to appealing to Portugal’s Constitutional Court. The US Attorney General has not yet made his next step known.
Jorge Dos Santos, today 68 years old, was born George Wright in Detroit, Michigan. In 1970, he and three other inmates escaped from Bayside State Prison in Leesburg, New Jersey, and joined an underground political wing of the Afro-American liberation movement. At the time of his outbreak, he had served seven of a 15 – 30 year sentence for a robbery of $70 in 1962. The gas station owner, Walter Patterson, was shot and killed by an accomplice, who was subsequently sentenced to “life.” He has long since been freed.
The Wright case, the FBI’s high-profile manhunt target, made international headlines, when he was tracked down in Portugal, at the end of September, following his 41 year-long odyssey through the USA, Africa, and Europe.
Since his arrest, the Justice Department has not been the only one to exert pressure on Portuguese authorities, to have Wright extradited to serve the remainder of his sentence. Politicians, such as Senator Frank Lautenberg (Dem. NJ) have directly intervened to the government. “George Wright is guilty of the murder of Walter Patterson,” writes Lautenberg in his dispatch to the Portuguese Prime Minister, Passos Coelho, “and has yet to serve out his full sentence for that heinous crime in the United States.”
In his letter, Lautenberg omits that the 19-year-old Wright, at the time, was only an accomplice and had accepted the prosecutor’s plea-bargain. With his acceptance not to defend himself against the charge, he sought to avoid being sentenced to death. Had he not been under the threat of the death penalty and had had an appropriate defense counsel, he would not have had to escape from prison in 1970. He would have received a short sentence and been freed on parole already within a few years.