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A Lisbon court has denied a U.S. request for the extradition of captured American fugitive George Wright, a convicted murderer who eluded police for 40 years after he escaped from a New Jersey jail, his lawyer said Thursday.
Wright's lawyer, Manuel Luis Ferreira, told The AP by telephone the court rejected the U.S. bid.
Ferreira said the judge accepted his arguments that Wright is now Portuguese and that the statute of limitations on the killing had expired. He declined to provide further details, saying he would speak to the media later in the day.
The U.S. Department of Justice, which can appeal the decision to a higher Portuguese court, did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
Decades ago, Wright was in a New Jersey prison, serving a 30-year sentence for the 1962 robbing and killing of a war hero he had gunned down at an Esso gas station in Farmingdale, N.J.
World War II Bronze Star recipient Walter Paterson was killed for the $70 in his pocket.
Wright was captured in Portugal in September, as first reported by NBC New York, after more than four decades on the run. The United States wanted him to service the remainder of his sentence in New Jersey.
In August 1970, Wright and two others escaped from the Leesburg, N.J. facility, stole the warden's car and headed to Atlantic City. From there they went to Detroit, where they joined up with the Black Liberation Army.
Two years later, Wright and several others commandeered a Delta Airlines flight from Detroit to Miami -- Wright boarded the flight dressed as a priest, with a gun hidden in the cut-out pages of a Bible.
His fellow members of the Black Liberation Army also boarded with weapons, and 88 passengers were held hostage. It was one of the most daring hijackings in history, and also one of the most humiliating for the FBI.
Some of the hijackers were eventually caught a few years later in Paris, but Wright was never found -- until he recently began contacting some relatives in the U.S. The FBI, along with U.S. marshals, Monmouth County prosecutors and New Jersey Department of Corrections investigators, tracked him to Portugal.
Wright got Portuguese citizenship through his 1991 marriage to a Portuguese woman and after Guinea-Bissau, a former Portuguese colony in West Africa, gave him the new name of "Jose Luis Jorge dos Santos'' complete with fake names for parents and made him a citizen.
The identity from Guinea-Bissau was granted after the country gave Wright political asylum in the 1980s, and that was accepted by Portugal when it granted him citizenship, according to his lawyer.