Jul 11, 2012
The quest for justice by the family of a decorated World War II veteran murdered in New Jersey in 1962 by a man convicted of the murder but who went on to escape prison, hijack a U.S. passenger airliner to Africa and elude capture for decades was the topic of a hearing held by U.S. Congressman Chris Smith (NJ-04), Chairman of the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE, or Helsinki Commission) on Wednesday.
Smith’s hearing, “Justice in the International Extradition System: The Case of George Wright and Beyond,” examined the attempts to extradite Wright, who was convicted in 1963 of murdering Walter Patterson of Wall Township, N.J. during an armed robbery. Wright escaped prison in 1970, and in 1972 hijacked a passenger plane and forced the crew to take him and his accomplices to Algeria. Last year, Wright was located in a village in Portugal, but a Portuguese court denied the United States’ request to have him extradited. Former FBI Agent R.J. Gallagher, who worked the cold case from 1994-2011, testified before the commission, as did Ann Patterson of Howell, N.J., daughter of Walter Patterson.
“Ann Patterson, Walter Patterson's daughter, along with her family, has suffered irreparable harm from the brutal violence committed against her beloved father by George Wright,” Smith said. “Shockingly, a Portuguese court rejected the United States’ extradition request last November and efforts to reverse that decision have now ceased. The Patterson family, so deeply wounded by the murder of their beloved family member and then by the murderer’s escape, now are bewildered—and angry at—Portugal’s refusal to extradite George Wright.” Smith said the fight to bring Wright back to the U.S. to serve out his murder conviction is not over. Click here to read Smith’s opening statement.
Click here to watch the webcast of the hearing. (Note: advance playback about 22 minutes to approx. 2:01 p.m. to view the start of the hearing.)
Ann Patterson, accompanied by her two daughters and two grandchildren told the commission and a packed hearing room of her pain at losing her father, who served four years in World War II and was a recipient of the Bronze Star, when she was only 14 and her little sister was 13.
“George Wright did not give my father a choice on November 23, 1962 and so he should not have a choice about not serving his sentence. He does not owe Portugal time; he owes the United States. George Wright is not sorry for what he did. There has been no apology to the Patterson Family. On the contrary, he has made this all about himself and basked in the limelight,” Ann said. “He is not the victim here—we are. George Wright is a convicted murderer who lived a life of violence, then fled and lived a life of lies. Now his past has caught up with him and he needs to come back here and serve his sentence.” Click here to read Ann’s testimony.
Retired FBI Special Agent Gallagher said that since Portuguese law enforcement arrested Wright in September of 2011, the Portuguese courts have denied the United States extradition request because too much time had passed, because Wright’s integration into Portuguese society demanded that extradition be denied on humanitarian grounds and because the court ruled that Wright is a Portuguese citizen. But Wright provided false information to Portuguese authorities to hide his true identity and obtain citizenship.
“To this day, Wright has not served his sentence for his homicide conviction nor has he been tried for the indicted charge of Air Piracy,” Gallagher said. Click here to read Gallagher’s statement.
Jonathan Winer, former U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Law Enforcement, testified that George Wright has expressed relief at not being returned to the United States to serve out his prison sentence and being allowed to spend the remainder of his life with his wife and his grown children, while hoping to profit off his crimes by writing a book about them. Winer called the Portuguese judge’s decision a “travesty” that should be reversed.
“Walter Patterson and his family have been denied these and many other pleasures and instead forced to suffer outrageous injuries from Wright due to decisions he took of his own volition, without regard for the consequences to anyone,” Winer told the panel. “In this case, and in other cases like this, it should be the policy of the United States to take appropriate steps to make sure that murderers and terrorists, wherever located, can never breathe the sigh of relief that they have reached safety as a result of outlasting law and justice.” Click here to read Winer’s testimony.
The U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe is an independent agency of the federal government charged with monitoring compliance with the Helsinki Accords and advancing comprehensive security through promotion of human rights, democracy, and economic, environmental and military cooperation in the 56 countries that make of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The Commission consists of nine members from the U.S. Senate, nine from the House of Representatives, and one member each from the Departments of State, Defense, and Commerce.