After 45 Years, NJ’s Most-Wanted Prison-Break Fugitive Still Free
EAST BRUNSWICK — Wednesday marks 45 years since Joanne Chesimard and two others killed a State Trooper and injured another during a traffic stop. Nearly four decades after escaping from a New Jersey prison, Chesimard remains free.
Chesimard, along with Clark Edward Squire and Zayd Malik Shakur, were suspects in a bank robbery at the time of the traffic stop on the New Jersey Turnpike in East Brunswick. During the shootout, Trooper Werner Foerster and Shakur were both killed while Squire initially fled before being captured. Chesimard, a Black Liberation Army radical, was in the car with the two other men, including the one who shot Foerster with the trooper's own weapon.
Squire was sentenced to life in prison in 1974 after being convicted of first-degree murder in 1977. She escaped from prison in 1979 before being located in Cuba in 1984.
Chesimard, commonly known know as Assata Shakur, is on the most wanted lists of the FBI and the New Jersey State Police. But because she is in Cuba there has been no progress in bringing her back to the country. The FBI is offering a reward of up to $1 million for information leading to her arrest. The FBI's website has pictures of Chesimard at the time of her arrest and an image of what she could look like now.
In recent years, as there has been a normalization of relations with Cuba, Chesimard's case has been a political hot topic. U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and former Gov. Chris Christie both said her capture and return should be a prerequisite for full normalization.
Since President Donald Trump took office, he has announced new restrictions and sanctions on the island country. Trump also called for the Cuban government under the regime of then-President Raul Castro to return Chesimard to the United States. Menendez called Trump's announcement "a step in the right direction to reverse an ill-advised and misguided Cuba policy."
In a letter to former President Obama, Christie called Chesimard's freedom "an affront to every resident of our state, our country, and in particular, the men and women of the New Jersey State Police, who have tirelessly tried to bring this killer back to justice."
Because of his stance on Chesimard, Trump was made an honorary state trooper during a meeting with representatives of the State Police last year. Cuba's foreign minister told President Trump last year that the government would not return Chesimard or any other fugitives to the United States.