The reward for the capture and return of a fugitive member of a Black militant group convicted of murdering a New Jersey state trooper was doubled to $2 million on May 2, the 40th anniversary of the bloody gun battle.
The FBI also announced it has made Joanne Chesimard, now living in Cuba as Assata Shakur, the first woman on its list of most wanted terrorists.
“She continues to flaunt her freedom in the face of this horrific crime,” State Police Superintendent Col. Rick Fuentes said at a news conference. Fuentes called the case “an open wound” for troopers in New Jersey and around the country.
The Justice Department has offered a $1 million reward for information leading to her capture. The additional money is being put up by the state of New Jersey through civil and criminal forfeiture funds and won’t fall on taxpayers, state Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa said.
Chesimard, a member of the violent Black Liberation Army, was convicted of the 1973 murder of state trooper Werner Foerster during a traffic stop. The BLA was responsible for killing more than a dozen police officers in the 1970s and ’80s, said agent Aaron Ford of the FBI’s Newark division.
According to Fuentes, Foerster and his partner stopped a car carrying Chesimard and two cohorts on the New Jersey Turnpike for a broken tail light. When the troopers approached the car, a gunfight ensued and both troopers were injured. Chesimard then took Foerster’s gun and shot him twice in the head as he lay on the ground.
She was convicted in 1977 but escaped from prison in New Jersey in November 1979 with the help of accomplices. She spent the next few years living in safe houses, two of which were in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, before surfacing in Cuba in 1984, Fuentes said.
In Cuba, Chesimard has continued to espouse her anti-U.S. views in speeches advocating “revolution and terrorism” and may have connections to other international terrorist organizations, Ford said.
“She is a domestic terrorist who murdered a law enforcement officer execution style,” he said. “And while we can’t right the wrongs of the past, we can and will continue to pursue justice no matter how long it takes.”
Chesimard is believed to be one of dozens of American fugitives living in Cuba, many of them one-time members of U.S. militant groups. Cuba doesn’t haven an extradition agreement with the U.S. because of the chilly relations between the two countries over the last five decades, but the climate appears to be slowly changing.
In recent years, Cuba has deported some fugitives back to the U.S., including one man convicted of mail fraud and another sought on child pornography charges. This month, the country returned a Florida couple accused in a custody dispute of kidnapping their two children and sailing to Cuba.
The Cuban government had no immediate comment on the announcement. This week, the State Department said it has no plans to remove Cuba from a list of state sponsors of terrorism that also includes Iran, Syria and Sudan. Cuba has denied links to terrorism.
Authorities didn’t specify how they thought the increased reward would surmount the issues between the two countries, but they said they hoped the increased attention would help persuade someone to come forward.
“Our resolve to capture Joanne Chesimard does not diminish with the passage of time,” Chiesa said. “Instead, it grows stronger with the knowledge that this killer continues to be free. Our hope is the augmented reward will spur action that will bring Joanne Chesimard back to face the justice she has evaded for far too long.”