Thursday, April 9, 2015

George Wright: a Murderer Escapes Justice

In 1962, George Wright robbed a hotel in New Jersey with three accomplices: Walter McGhee, Elizabeth Roswell, and Julio DeLeon. They proceeded to a gas station, which they also robbed.

While robbing the gas station, they shot and killed Walter Patterson. The four were arrested. George Wright pleaded nolo contendere at his trial, and was sent to prison.

In August 1970, Wright and three other convicts escaped from prison. Wright and one of the other escapees, George Brown, made their way to Detroit, where they joined a nascent terrorist organization, the Black Liberation Army.

The Black Liberation Army was formed when Eldridge Cleaver left - or was expelled from - the Black Panther Party. Cleaver and others formed the new organization, promising to be more revolutionary and more violent.

In July 1972, George Wright and George Brown boarded a Delta Airlines flight in Detroit. They had three accomplices: Joyce Brown, Melvin McNair, and Jean Carol Allen McNair. Joyce Brown sometimes also used the name Joyce Tillerson.

The five hijacked the plane as it approached Miami, Florida. On the ground, they demanded one million dollars in exchange for the lives of the passengers and crew. They received the money.

They ordered the crew to fly to Boston, where they refueled and took off for Algiers.

In a narrative of legal technicalities, they were arrested but then released by the Algerian government; Algeria had only recently obtained its political independence, and was in the grip of socialist regime which had a certain fondness for violent revolutionaries and for terrorists.

They went to France, where they were captured, tried, and convicted, but then released after a few years. Along the way, George Wright somehow obtained Portuguese citizenship.

In September 2011, he was arrested in Portugal. Again, however, legal technicalities helped him to evade justice. In April 2012, the National Review wrote:

In 1962, George Wright murdered a New Jersey gas-station owner named Walter Patterson. The victim was a decorated World War II vet with two daughters. Wright went to prison but escaped in 1970. He then joined something calling itself the Black Liberation Army. He and four of his comrades hijacked a plane in 1972. Wright was dressed as a priest, and hid a gun in a hollowed-out Bible. The hijackers demanded $1 million. Wright said over the cockpit radio, “If that money is not here by 2 o’clock, I’m going to start throwing a dead body out the door every minute.” The government paid. The hijackers forced the plane to Algeria. Wright took up residence in Guinea-Bissau, rechristening himself José Luís Jorge dos Santos. For the last many years, he has lived in Portugal, with his wife and two children (the same number Patterson had). U.S. authorities discovered him last September. Wright told the New York Times, “Knowing the Americans, I always feared that they had their antennas up.” He need not have feared much. In a decision last month, the Portuguese refused to extradite him, citing a statute of limitations. Wright is now entertaining book and movie deals. “Justice has been done,” his lawyer said.

A murderer and hijacker successfully used international legal articulations to escape the lawful consequences for his actions.

Now over seventy years of age, George Wright has coached basketball, married a woman thirteen years younger than he is, and raised two children who are now over the age of twenty.

He has operated a restaurant, worked as a bouncer in a nightclub, and sold souvenirs to tourists on the nearby beach. His neighbors were shocked to learn that he is a convicted murderer, prison escapee, hijacker.