Lawyer: Portugal denies US appeal for fugitive

LISBON, Portugal (AP) ? Portugal’s Supreme Court has refused a request from the U.S. to extradite American fugitive George Wright, his lawyer said Thursday.

Wright’s lawyer Manuel Luis Ferreira said the court rejected an appeal by the U.S. against a lower court’s decision that denied extradition a month ago.

“The Supreme Court has denied the appeal,” Ferreira told The Associated Press. “They notified me today.”

The U.S. can now appeal to Portugal’s Constitutional Court if it chooses to.

Ferreira said he did not have details of the ruling. In Portugal, extradition cases are conducted in secret. Ferreira said Wright intends to remain in Portugal.

A Lisbon judge decided against Wright’s extradition in November, two months after he was captured in Portugal following four decades on the run.

The U.S. Justice Department filed an appeal less than two weeks later.

Supreme Court officials weren’t available to comment after office hours Thursday, and the U.S. Justice Department did not immediately reply to an email seeking comment.

The lower court judge had ruled that Wright, 68, had become a Portuguese citizen and that the statute of limitations on his 15- to 30-year sentence for a robbery-murder in New Jersey had expired, according to Ferreira.

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

Wright spent seven years in a U.S. prison for murder before breaking out in 1970.

He and others then hijacked a plane in 1972 from the U.S. to Algeria along with other Black Liberation Army militants. He was captured in Portugal after his U.S. fingerprint matched one in Portugal’s database of prints for all citizens.

Wright’s fugitive odyssey began when he broke out of Bayside State Prison in Leesburg, N.J., on Aug. 19, 1970, and made his way to Detroit, where he joined the Black Liberation Army. Dressed as a priest, he hijacked a Delta flight to Miami with four others, using handguns they sneaked on the plane.

After releasing the plane’s 86 passengers for $1 million, the hijackers forced the plane to fly to Boston, then to Algeria, where they sought asylum.

Algeria gave the money and plane back to the U.S., and Wright and his comrades went underground, settling in France. The others were captured and convicted of hijacking in Paris, but radical French sympathizers helped Wright escape to Portugal.

Wright met his future wife, Maria do Rosario Valente, in Lisbon in 1978. The couple moved in the early 1980s to Guinea-Bissau, a former Portuguese colony, where Wright lived openly using his real name and socialized with U.S. diplomats and embassy personnel who told The Associated Press they were unaware of his past.

Guinea-Bissau granted him political asylum in the 1980s, made him a citizen and gave him the new name Jose Luis Jorge dos Santos, complete with fake names for his parents.

Wright then got Portuguese citizenship through his 1991 marriage to a Portuguese woman. His identity from Guinea-Bissau was accepted by Portugal when it granted him citizenship, according to his lawyer.

He and his wife moved back to Portugal in 1993 to the tiny town of Almocageme, 28 miles (45 kilometers) from Lisbon. Wright then worked a series of jobs ? as a painter, a nightclub bouncer and a barbecue chicken restaurant manager ? as they raised two children.