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How George Wright Became a 'Convicted Murderer' Without Having Committed the Crime (USA, Portugal)

Written by George Pumphrey, Berlin, Germany.

When news broke that, at the request of the US government, Portugal had arrested George Wright (Jose Luis Jorge dos Santos), a Portuguese citizen, for consideration of his extradition to the United States for having escaped prison, there was an air of the spectacular in the news articles. The accent in many articles was on the arrest of a “convicted murderer,” who had been a fugitive for 40 years.

George Wright had escaped from the Bayside State Prison in Leesburg, N.J., in 1970, where he had served more than seven years of a 15 – 30 year prison sentence for murder. It was also reported – almost in passing – that Wright and four other Afro-Americans had hijacked a Delta Airlines jet from the US to Algeria in 1972 with a ransom of $1 million destined to the foreign section of the Black Panther Party located in Algeria.

But the demand for his extradition is allegedly merely to return Wright to prison to “finish his time.”

Back to the Source

Some of the earlier articles had referred to Wright being a “convicted murderer.” Some European journals understandably believe this to mean that George Wright had taken someone’s life – “understandable,” that is, when one considers the source of this information.

FBI Special Agent, Bryan L. Travers, announcing Wrights arrest, wrote in his press release (September 27, 2011) that –

“On November 23, 1962, George Wright and three associates were involved in the commission of multiple armed robberies. During the second of these robberies, Wright and an associate shot and killed Walter Patterson, a World War II veteran and Bronze Star recipient, during the robbery of the Collingswood Esso gas station in Wall, New Jersey.”[1]

The FBI special agent then explains:

Wright was arrested two days later and was indicted on state charges along with his associates on December 13, 1962. On February 15, 1963, Wright entered a plea of “no defense” to the charge of murder. Wright was subsequently sentenced to 15 to 30 years’ incarceration.[2]

For Europeans, unfamiliar with the US penal system, a translation of the background to these allegations may prove useful.

Is George Wright a Murderer?

Special Agent Travers writes that “Wright AND an associate shot and killed Walter Patterson,” while press reports from New Jersey – where Special Agent Travers is stationed – and elsewhere tell a different story about the incident:

“One of [the robbers], Walter McGhee, had a revolver, according to police records. McGhee fired two shots at Patterson and ran off with $70. (…) McGhee was sentenced to life in prison. Wright, as one of the holdup men, was also charged with murder. He changed his plea from innocent to no defense to evade a jury trial that could have resulted in the death penalty if he were found guilty, according to news accounts. Wright, at age 19, was sentenced to 15 to 30 years in prison, where he served time until his escape in 1970.”
[3]

And another journalist adds more details:

Wright, armed with a sawed-off 22- caliber rifle, and McGhee, armed with a 32-caliber pistol, were both wearing women’s pantyhose over their faces when they assaulted Patterson and fired at least one shot during the robbery. Patterson was shot once in the abdomen before the four got away with $70 in cash. Police later determined it was a shot from McGhee’s pistol that led to Patterson’s death.[4]

It must have been clear – even to the FBI – that though Wright had participated in the holdup and that though Wright had been armed, it was not Wright, but McGhee, who was the murderer. The FBI certainly had access to the same police records as the journalists quoted above. Nevertheless, the FBI deliberately falsified its version of events to make George Wright appear dangerous.

“No Defense”

There is a second aspect that may be particularly alien to Europeans about the US system. George Wright was “convicted” of a murder that police, prosecutor and judge all knew he was innocent of. Whereas the FBI press release merely states “Wright entered a plea of ‘no defense’ to the charge of murder,” the journalists quoted above say why.

McGhee, the actual killer, was sentenced to life in prison. Nevertheless, Wright, charged with the murder, everyone knew he had not committed, was forced to change his plea from “innocent” to “no defense,” thereby waiving his right to a trial by jury. It was clear that if he was found guilty in that trial, he would have received the death penalty for a crime everyone knew him to be innocent of.

(September 21, 2011, despite pleas for clemency from around the world, including the European Parliament, the Council of Europe and the Pope, the state of Georgia executed Troy Anthony Davis for a murder it was evident he had not committed. Seven of the nine witnesses against him retracted and recanted their testimonies before the court, declaring in written statements that they had been pressured by police and prosecution to lie in court accusing Davis of murder. One of the 2 witnesses who has not recanted is believed to be the actual murderer. The US Supreme Court refused to allow the new evidence of Davis’ innocence to be admitted, which would have resulted not only in the liberation of Davis but in a new trial. This could have also been the fate of George Wright.)

Where is the justice?

Under US law, if a more grave crime occurs – for example murder – in the course of the commission of a lesser crime – in this case robbery – the participants committing the lesser crime can also be charged with the graver crime, even though it is clear that, another had actually committed it.

Following his arrest, George Wright, having no means to hire his own lawyer, had to therefore rely on the services of a court appointed lawyer.
These are usually inexperienced, underpaid by the court and disinterested in cases that will do little to further their careers.

The prosecutor, who then put Wright under pressure to obtain another rapid conviction for a serious crime, additionally charged Wright with this murder. Wright insisted on his innocence, which meant he had a right to a jury trial. However, jury trials cost the state money and the prosecution would be forced to prepare his case. The court appointed defense lawyer would also lose time on a non-paying client, time (s)he would rather spend on a high-profile or, at least, a better paying case. So not being interested in going to trial, the court appointed lawyer would advise his/her client to take a “plea bargain”, meaning one of the versions of not contesting the charges, so that a guilty verdict can be pronounced by the judge, without having to go through the normal trial procedure. Wright pleaded that he was making “no defense” against the charges against him.

Allen N. Cowling, a private investigator specializing in cases of persons falsely charged with crimes, explains, that “although a plea [bargain] has many names; nolo contendere, (no contest) or an Alford, (no admission of guilt), regardless of what it is called, it is still an admission of guilt by an accused to an offense that they may not have committed.” [5]

A “plea bargain” is an official extortion of a “guilty” plea from a defendant, regardless of his innocence, in exchange for a promised – but not always held – specific sentence.

The case of George Wright is a good example of how this works. Wright was probably threatened that if he insisted on pleading innocent – meaning that a jury would have to determine his guilt for murder – then he would have the entire system against him. Not only the prosecution and judge – for forcing them to take the “long road” to a conviction – but even his “defense” lawyer would be against him. Wright’s insistence on his right to justice would have cost his defense lawyer precious time and therefore money with a non-paying client. It is the latter that is most important because (s)he is in a position to take revenge and sabotage his chances to be objectively heard by the jury. Therefore, it would have been almost certain that he would be convicted of a crime he had not committed.

Paul Craig Roberts, [6] explains:

“In the US the wrongful conviction rate is extremely high. One reason is that hardly any of the convicted have had a jury trial. No peers have heard the evidence against them and found them guilty. In the US criminal justice (sic) system, more than 95% of all felony cases are settled with a plea bargain.”

And warns:

“Before jumping to the conclusion that an innocent person would not admit guilt, be aware of how the process works. Any defendant who stands trial faces more severe penalties, if found guilty, than if he agrees to a plea bargain. Prosecutors don’t like trials because they are time consuming and a lot of work. To discourage trials, prosecutors offer defendants reduced charges and lighter sentences than would result from a jury conviction. In the event a defendant insists upon his innocence, prosecutors pile on charges until the defendant’s lawyer and family convince the defendant that a jury is likely to give the prosecutor a conviction on at least one of the many charges and that the penalty will be greater than a negotiated plea.” [7]

In principle, more than 95% of the inmates in US prisons are innocent, simply because their guilt has not been proven – beyond a reasonable doubt – in a trial. A plea of guilty – regardless of guilt or innocence – had been extorted from them.

The theory behind plea-bargaining is “the confession of the defendant is considered solving the conflict and rendering the judicial procedure (particularly the analysis of the evidence) superfluous. This is why as soon as there is a confession, the judge pronounces the sentence’.” [8]

“There is one snag in the whole plea-bargaining deal: once you plead guilty, you cannot appeal your case or change your plea to not guilty. This is another way that the American judicial system accounts for its high percentage of Blacks in prison.” [9]

Plea bargaining has robbed the US criminal justice system of its middle name. With plea bargaining, the question of guilt and innocence – the prerequisite for justice – play no longer a role. Through the plea bargaining technique, the government mass-produces convictions, most of which are Black, Hispanic and poor, sending them to prison, without ever having had the benefit of a trial, “because it is obvious that they are guilty. They pled guilty, didn’t they?” is the reasoning usually given.

On the other hand, official propaganda, as the FBI shows above, can conjure up a “murderer” by constantly pointing to his “conviction.”

This is how George Wright became the “convicted murderer” without having committed the crime.

NOTES:

[1] Travers, Bryan L., International Fugitive Captured After More Than 40 Years, FBI Newark September 27, 2011
http://www.fbi.gov/newark/press-releases/2011/international-fugitive-captured-after-more-than-40-years

[2] ibid

[3] Grant, Jason, “A fugitive’s quiet life in Portugal: Seaside village, friendly neighbors,” The Star-Ledger, September 29, 2011,
http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2011/09/a_fugitives_quiet_life_in_port.html
See also: Ferreira, Leonardo, Após 40 anos, fugitivo norte-americano de New Jersey é preso em Portugal, Brazilian Voice, 06/10/2011,
http://www.brazilianvoice.com/bv_noticias/bv_comunidade/41731-Aps-anos-fugitivo-norte-americano-New-Jersey-preso-Portugal.html

[4] Webster, Charles, “A promise made, a promise kept” Asbury Park Press, Oct. 1, 2011,
http://www.app.com/article/20110930/NJNEWS/309300132/Fugitive-s-arrest-brings-relief-to-the-family-of-WWII-veteran-killed-in-Wall

[5] Cowling, Allen N., “Falsely Accused and Plea Bargains,” http://www.allencowling.com/plea.htm

[6] Paul Craig Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration, Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal editorial page and Contributing Editor of National Review.

[7] Roberts, Paul Craig, “America’s Injustice System Is Criminal,” December 12, 2006,
http://www.lewrockwell.com/roberts/roberts187.html

[8] Nikiforov, Boris, “Etat Actuel de la Justice aux Etats Unis,” ed. Revue Trimestrielle de la section des Sciences Sociales de l’Academie des Sciences de l’URSS, Nr. 4, (34) 1978, pg. 221

[9] Brown, George, Nous Noirs Americains, Evadés du Ghetto, Seuil, Paris, pg. 217 – 218

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This entry was posted on Saturday, January 28th, 2012 at 8:15 pm and is filed under Social Control.