Forty years ago today, Joanne Chesimard allegedly shot and killed New Jersey state trooper Werner Foerster. She was convicted, but escaped from prison in 1979 and was granted asylum in Cuba, where she has been living since the 1980s. On Thursday, the FBI announced a $2 million reward for her capture and named her to the bureau's "Most Wanted Terrorists" list.
"This case is just as important today as it was when it happened 40 years ago," said Mike Rinaldi, a lieutenant in the New Jersey State Police, in a press release.
Chesimard was a member of the Black Liberation Army, a "radical left wing terror group that felt justified killing law enforcement officers" during the 1970s, Rinaldi said. "[T]his group conducted assaults on police stations and murdered police officers."
If an individual provides information leading to her capture they will be eligible for a $1 million reward from the FBI and a $1 million payout from the state of New Jersey. The FBI noted that she is the second "domestic terrorist" to make its most wanted list.
Chesimard's dramatic escape from prison happened when "[a]rmed domestic terrorists gained entry into the facility, neutralized the guards, broke her free, and turned her over to a nearby getaway team," Rinaldi said.
It's unclear why the FBI is making the renewed effort to capture Chesimard, who now goes by Assata Shakur and lives freely in Cuba. Without cooperation from the Cuban government, there's a small chance of capture.
The award for Chesimard's capture was raised from $150,000 to $1 million in 2005 on the 32nd anniversary of Foerster's death. A report in the New Jersey Star-Ledger quoted Cuban exiles saying they would spread the word to friends and family remaining in Cuba.
Fidel Castro, Cuba's longtime leader, defended Chesimard in 2005. "They wanted to portray her as a terrorist, something that was an injustice, a brutality, an infamous lie," he said in a TV address, according to The Associated Press. Castro handed over power to his brother, Raúl, in 2011.
A Cuban government spokesperson told The Independent in 1998 that with no extradition treaty between Cuba and the U.S. the island nation is not obligated to return Chesimard, who denies killing Foerster.
Chesimard once listed her phone number in Havana's phone book, The New York Times reported in 2007, but has largely lived under the radar. The Times noted that several other U.S. fugitives are living in Cuba - including fellow black radical Charlie Hill, who killed a policeman and flew a hijacked airplane to Cuba in 1971 with two friends.