After decades of elusive justice and failed U.S. government efforts to extradite the convicted murderers of a New Jersey State trooper and a World War II veteran, as well as other fugitives, U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) and Rep. Albio Sires (NJ-08) today unveiled the "Walter Patterson and Werner Foerster Justice and Extradition Act" (H.R. 3585).
"The bill is named after Walter Patterson and Werner Foerster because they were both brutally murdered by people who have been convicted, escaped prison and simply moved abroad, where they live with no consequences or accountability and taunt the surviving relatives and friends of the people they killed. Despite some efforts, our government has failed to bring back the criminals in either case," said Smith. "These are two of the most egregious cases, but it's clear that there are many others. Passage of H.R. 3585 would enable us to properly assess the information on actions taken across various federal agencies, reevaluate our efforts and ultimately make policy changes aimed at bringing back criminals who have fled the U.S. justice system. The surviving family members and friends deserve no less."
The bill, sponsored by Smith, would require the executive branch to report to Congress on the number of fugitives which our government is seeking to extradite, the efforts it has undertaken to secure their return, how often it is successful, and factors that have prevented their return. The information would allow Congress to evaluate and strengthen the executive branch's efforts to extradite fugitives.
Walter Patterson was murdered by George Wright at Patterson's gas station in Wall, N.J., during a Nov. 23, 1962 robbery and convicted. In 1970 Wright escaped from the New Jersey state prison in Leesburg, N.J., later hijacking a plane and fleeing the country. Due to cold case work initiated by FBI investigator R.J. Gallagher, in 2011 Wright was discovered living in a coastal resort area of Portugal, but the Portuguese government refuses to extradite him.
Trooper Foerster was murdered by Joanne Chesimard on the New Jersey Turnpike on May 2, 1973. Chesimard escaped from a New Jersey state prison near Clinton, N.J. in 1979 and made her way to Cuba, which has supported her at Cuban government expense.
Rep. Sires, the lead Democratic co-sponsor of the bipartisan legislation, said, "My thoughts and prayers remain with the families of Trooper Werner Foerster and Walter Patterson whose pain and suffering have only been exacerbated by the inability to bring the killers of their loved ones to justice. It has been 40 years since Joanne Chesimard murdered New Jersey State Trooper, Werner Foerster. I stand with the brave men and women of the New Jersey State Police who remain committed in bringing Joanne Chesimard to justice. It is unconscionable albeit not surprising that the Castro regime, suppressors of the freedom loving people of Cuba, will allow a convicted killer to walk freely and enjoy the liberties it denies its own people while knowingly persecuting and imprisoning Cubans advocating for basic human rights and the freedom to speak freely, worship and assemble without reprisal. This bill honors the lives of Werner Foerster and Walter Patterson in its aim to have Congress ensure that our government remains steadfast in its efforts to retrieve Joanne Chesimard, George Wright, and the countless other fugitives eluding justice abroad."
Ann Patterson, of Monmouth County, N.J., the daughter of Walter Patterson, said, "Once again as the calendar reminds me of that dreadful night, November 23, 1962, I remember the heartbreaking events that mark the 51st anniversary of my father, Walter Patterson's brutal beating and murder. George Wright, who administered the beating, has not paid his debt to society, nor to the Patterson family as he escaped from prison, hijacked a plane, held 86 passengers as hostages, and threatened others with bodily harm and death. The family of Walter Patterson has not given up hope that the United States government, both the State Department and the Department of Justice, will pursue all avenues so that justice will be served and we will have some measure of closure."
Chris Burgos, President of the State Troopers Fraternal Association of New Jersey, said, "This piece of legislation is a clear reminder that we will not forget the brutal cold-blooded murder of Trooper Foerster over 40 years ago, and that we will not relent on seeking justice done for those responsible. We applaud Congressman Smith on his efforts."
Walter Patterson's granddaughter, Jackie, added: "As the anniversary of my grandfather's death approaches, I think about the holidays George Wright is able to spend with his family while my family will once again be missing a family member. Having this bill passed in honor of my grandfather is a step towards obtaining justice for the Patterson family. We continue to hope that one day George Wright will serve the remainder of his sentence, but in the meantime, we will continue to honor my grandfather by setting up a scholarship in his name. Hopefully this bill will prevent other families from experiencing the disappointment that our family has faced."
Terry, another granddaughter, said Wright should serve out the rest of his sentence: "Where he decides to hide out for 40 years, or the amount of time that has passed does not erase the crimes committed, nor does it erase the fact that he is a convicted criminal who has not fulfilled his sentencing. The amazing part of the story is that after 40 years, and who knows how many aliases later, the FBI agents and U.S. Marshalls tracked down this murderer. The more amazing part of the story is that after they invested numerous hours and resources, the murderer is still living as a free man."
Terry said that Wright's dodging his debt to society sends the wrong message about the U.S. criminal justice system. "If anything positive comes out of the murder of my grandfather, I can only hope that other criminals are brought to justice, no matter where they decide to try to hide, or what country they flee to."
Smith added, "In 2012, when it became clear that our government's efforts to extradite George Wright from Portugal had failed, I held meetings with the Portuguese ambassador and the Department of Justice, and chaired a hearing on the Wright case and the extradition process. It was apparent right away that the process is failing far too many people--above all for those who see people who have killed their loved ones living openly abroad, apparently outside of our government's reach. It was also apparent that, while our government has certainly taken the Wright and Chesimard cases very seriously, there are experts currently outside our government who have ideas for a more vigorous, creative pursuit of these criminals. This bill will give Congress the relevant facts with which to jump-start new approaches to extradition."