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|Werner Foerster 1938 - 1973|
William Westhoven, writing in the Daily Record:
President Barack Obama's announcement Wednesday of a prisoner exchange with Cuba — and significant efforts to normalize relations with its six-decade communist foe — has not gone down well in some circles, particularly in New Jersey.
Following the historic deal, Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-Morris, led a cry for justice, responding with the demand that White House officials secure the return of fugitive JoAnne Chesimard — convicted of first-degree murder following a 1973 New Jersey Turnpike shootout in East Brunswick that left one New Jersey State Trooper dead and another critically wounded.
"To me, the New Jersey law enforcement community and many other Americans, one of the biggest impediments to improved relations between the United States and Cuba is the continued safe haven provided to the fugitive, JoAnne Chesimard," Frelinghuysen stated. "I would demand that the White House and the State Department work much harder to bring this murderer 'home' to New Jersey where she can face justice and serve out her sentence."
Chesimard and fellow defendant Clark Squire also spent two nights lodged in the Morris County Jail in late 1973 during jury selection in Morristown. Chesimard's case was declared a mistrial at the time due to her pregnancy, but she was convicted in a 1977 retrial. Her defense team included the late William Kunstler, a civil-rights activist and attorney famous for defending unpopular defendants.
Following her conviction on two murder and six assault counts, she was eventually incarcerated at the Clinton Correctional Facility for Women in Hunterdon County. She escaped custody on Nov. 2, 1979 in a brazen prison breakout by three armed BLA members. She eventually surfaced in Cuba, where she was granted political asylum by Fidel Castro.
She reportedly has lived there ever since, publishing an autobiography in 1987 while New Jersey and federal officials argued unsuccessfully for her extradition.
Frelinghuysen applauded the release of American Alan Gross, imprisoned in Cuba for the past five years, "However, we cannot forget that New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster will never return to his family and Cuba is harboring his killer," he stated.
New Jersey State Police Superintendent Col. Rick Fuentes also issued a statement, saying "Joanne Deborah Chesimard, AKA Assata Shakur, is on New Jersey's Most Wanted List and the FBI's Most Wanted Terrorist List. We view any changes in relations with Cuba as an opportunity to bring her back to the United States to finish her sentence for the murder of New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster in 1973."
Fuentes added the State Police are still working closely with the FBI to secure her return to justice in New Jersey, and that a $2 million reward is still on the table for information leading to her apprehension.
Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez, son of Cuban immigrants and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also denounced the deal with Cuba.
"Let's be clear, this was not a 'humanitarian' act by the Castro regime," he said of the prisoner exchange that freed Gross. "It was a swap of convicted spies for an innocent American. President Obama's actions have vindicated the brutal behavior of the Cuban government."