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June 17, 2017

Trump demands return of New Jersey 'cop killer' exiled in Cuba

Politics Foreign Relations
Joanne Chesimard and NJ Trooper Werner Foerster  Public Domain/for PhillyVoice

Joanne Chesimard (L) was convicted in the 1973 murder of New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster (R).

President Donald Trump on Friday rolled back several Obama administration policies designed to ease America's decades-long standoff with Cuba, calling his predecessor's removal of travel and commercial restrictions a "terrible and misguided deal" as during a speech in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood.

One of the festering issues Trump addressed was the FBI's hunt for Joane Chessimard, the "Most Wanted" woman convicted of killing New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster in 1973. Together with the New Jersey of the Attorney General, the FBI is offering a $2 million reward for information leading to Chessimard's arrest.

"To the Cuban government, I say: Put an end to the abuse of dissidents," Trump said. "Release the political prisoners. Stop jailing innocent people. Open yourselves to political and economic freedoms. Return the fugitives from American justice — including the return of the cop-killer Joanne Chesimard."

Billed as a domestic terrorist, Chessimard and two other members of the Black Liberation Army engaged in a deadly shootout after they were pulled over on the New Jersey Turnpike on May 2, 1973.

Foerster and BLA member Zayn Malik Shakur, Chessimard's then-boyfriend, were both killed in the gunfire. Two years after her 1977 conviction as an accomplice Foerster's murder, Chessimard escaped from prison and fled to Cuba, where she lives under name Assata Shakur.

"I want to commend President Trump for speaking out so strongly and forcefully demanding the return of Joanne Chesimard to face justice in New Jersey for the murder of Trooper Foerster," New Jersey Gov. Christie said in a statement.

New Jersey officials have long called for Chessimard to be brought to justice in the United States. Lieutenant Gov. Kim Guadagno, a gubernatorial candidate to replace Christie, said in a 2015 interview the state has remained prepared to prosecute Chessimard if she is brought back.

After the death last November of longtime Cuban president Fidel Castro, New Jersey State Police renewed their own efforts to have Chessimard returned to the United States.

Colonel Rick Fuentes, superintendent of the State Police, praised Trump on Friday for his acknowledgment of the case and expressed hope in gaining justice for Foerster.

"On behalf of all the men and women of the New Jersey State Police, I am grateful for his recognition and deep concern that Cuba continues to harbor (one of) this country's most wanted cop killers and domestic terrorists," Fuentes said. "I am more hopeful than ever for the return of Joanne Chesimard to the United States to complete her term of imprisonment for the 1973 murder of Trooper Werner Foerster."