Hijacking fugitive's wife: I didn't know about his past

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LISBON, Portugal (AP) – The wife of captured American fugitive George Wright said her husband told her he escaped from a U.S. 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 lam. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. plane to Algeria in 1972.

Wright’s lawyer says the American will claim a new identity to prevent the U.S. 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 U.S. 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.”

Wright broke out of the Bayside State Prison in Leesburg, New Jersey, on Aug. 19, 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 Lisbon while the court rules on his extradition.

Valente, who is Portuguese, met Wright in the late 1970s when he was living near Lisbon, the Portuguese capital. They lived together in the 1980s in Portugal and in Guinea-Bissau, a former Portuguese colony in West Africa, according to Wright’s lawyer.

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.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.