Joanne Chesimard, the Black Liberation Army militant who fled prison for Cuba after being convicted of killing a New Jersey state trooper in 1973, was added to the FBI most-wanted terrorist list, and a reward doubled to $2 million.
New Jersey is offering $1 million for information leading to Chesimard’s capture, on top of an earlier $1 million reward from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, state Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa said in a statement today, the 40th anniversary of the execution-style killing on May 2, 1973. She is the first woman on the FBI’s most-wanted terrorist list.
“Justice has no expiration date and our resolve to capture Joanne Chesimard does not diminish with the passage of time,” Chiesa said in the statement. “We hope that this augmented reward will spur action that will bring Chesimard back.”
Chesimard, born in New York, was a prominent member of the Black Panther Party and later joined the Black Liberation Army, a revolutionary activist group that claimed responsibility for the murder of several police officers in the U.S. in the 1970s, the FBI said on its website. She was found guilty of first- degree murder in 1977 and sentenced to life in prison for killing Trooper Werner Foerster in a shootout on the New Jersey Turnpike.
Chesimard escaped in 1979 from a lockup in Clinton, New Jersey, with help from a “coalition of radical, domestic terror groups” who took two guards hostage during an armed assault at the facility, authorities said.
Chesimard, 65, who now goes by the name Assata Shakur, lived underground before being located in Cuba in 1984. She is still living on the island, according to Chiesa’s statement.
“She attends government functions and her standard of living is higher than most Cubans,” Chiesa said.
The murder took place after Foerster and another trooper, James Harper, stopped Chesimard and two accomplices for a motor vehicle violation, the FBI said. Chesimard, who was wanted for her involvement in felonies including bank robbery, and the two others opened fire on the troopers “seemingly without provocation,” using semiautomatic handguns, the FBI said.
Harper, who mortally wounded one of the assailants, was shot by Chesimard in the shoulder and returned fire, injuring her, the FBI said. Foerster engaged in hand-to-hand combat with the driver of the vehicle, Clark Squire, and was injured. He was then fatally shot “execution-style at point-blank range” on the side of the road with his own gun, the agency said.
“Chesimard’s jammed handgun was found at Foerster’s side,” Chiesa’s office said in today’s statement.
The three shooters fled the scene and abandoned their car five miles away. Chesimard and Squire, the other surviving shooter, were caught.
The FBI describes her as having scars on her chest, left shoulder, abdomen and left knee. She has used birthdays in 1947 and 1952 and may wear African tribal clothing, the agency said.
Squire, the imprisoned accomplice who goes by the name Sundiata Acoli, lost a bid for parole in August 2004, after 30 years in prison. The parole board said that he should remain locked up because his account of the gun battle contradicted evidence at his 1974 trial. Squire is serving a life sentence in a federal prison in Cumberland, Maryland.
Chiesa said the state’s share of the reward will come from forfeiture funds.
To contact the reporter on this story: Erik Larson in New York at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at email@example.com.