The wife of a convicted murderer wanted after escaping from a US prison and for allegedly hijacking a plane says she never quite believed he had broken out of prison.
THE WIFE OF captured American fugitive George Wright said her husband told her he escaped from a US jail but never revealed he had been convicted of murder or accused of a dramatic airplane hijacking.
Maria do Rosario Valente said she was shocked to learn about her husband’s past after his capture in Portugal last week after 41 years on the run. She said she thought the jail escape “was just a boast.”
“Now I’ve found out the rest,” she told Portugal’s TVI television in an interview broadcast late Sunday.
The US is trying to extradite Wright to serve the remainder of his 15- to 30-year sentence for a 1962 murder in New Jersey. The FBI also says he was part of a Black Liberation Army group that hijacked a US plane to Algeria in 1972.
Wright’s lawyer says the American will claim a new identity to prevent the US from extraditing him. The lawyer, Manuel Luis Ferreira, told The AP that Wright became a Portuguese citizen called Jose Luis Jorge dos Santos in 1991 after marrying Valente.
Wright’s new identity was given to him by Guinea-Bissau’s government when it granted him political asylum in the 1980s, and that was accepted by Portugal, Ferreira said. At the time, Guinea-Bissau was a single-party Marxist state that looked kindly on black liberation movements.
That fact may weigh heavily on the US extradition request for Wright. Portuguese citizens convicted in another country may be able to serve their sentences in Portugal if family members are there.
Valente told TVI late Sunday she never really believed Wright’s jail escape story — until now.
“I didn’t really think much of it,” she told TVI. “I thought it was just a boast.”
Life on the run
Wright broke out of the Bayside State Prison in Leesburg, New Jersey, on 19 August, 1970, after serving more than seven years of his sentence for killing a man in a 1962 gas station robbery. He was captured in a seaside village near Lisbon last week after decades on the run, and is being detained in the Portuguese capital while the court rules on his extradition.
Valente, who is Portuguese, met Wright in the late 1970s when he was living near Lisbon. According to Wright’s lawyer, they lived together in the 1980s in Portugal and in Guinea-Bissau, a former Portuguese colony in West Africa.
Valente gave birth to a son, Marco, with Wright in 1986 and married Wright in 1990. They had a daughter, Sara, the following year.
Valente said she was visiting her parents last week when she was called into police headquarters in Lisbon and given an account of the charges against her husband.
“That day is blurry,” she said.
She said their children, now adults, “were grief-stricken” when they learned about their father’s past and wept with him all the way through their first jail visit last week.
She described Wright as a loyal husband and dedicated father.
“I’ve no cause for complaint,” she said.
Valente said her husband’s asylum process in Guinea-Bissau was overseen by Vasco Cabral, a hero of the tiny nation’s struggle against Portuguese colonial rule.
Cabral, who died in 2005, became vice president after the country became independent in 1974. Cabral was Wright’s friend and “gave him his new identity,” Valente told TVI.
John Blacken, a former U.S. ambassador to Guinea-Bissau from 1986 to 1989, told the AP last week he knew Wright and his wife during that time and that Wright lived openly under his real name for years there. Blacken said he had no idea Wright was a US fugitive.
Valente even worked as a freelance translator for the U.S. Guinea-Bissau embassy from 1984 to 1990.