Cuba cites ‘legal obligations’ to hand over Montclair suspect. Joanne Chesimard is another story

The 55-year-old lawyer, accused in his girlfriend's killing, was brought back to New Jersey on Tuesday.

Cuba’s release of a Montclair homicide suspect to FBI agents Tuesday was the result of an Interpol notice and recent agreements with the United States, the Cuban government said.

While the country has defended the political asylum granted to New Jersey fugitive Joanne Chesimard more than 20 years ago, Cuban officials in a statement Wednesday said the transfer of James Ray III — whom they did not identify by name — was surrendered in keeping with “Cuba’s full compliance with its international legal obligations” and law enforcement agreements with the U.S.

Ray, a 55-year-old lawyer charged with murder in the fatal shooting of his girlfriend Angela Bledsoe last month, was detained after he arrived in the country on Oct. 28. Investigators on Wednesday said Ray was arrested before he could go through Cuban customs.

Joanne ChesimardJoanne Chesimard, now known as Assata Shakur. (New Jersey State Police)

Cuba’s cooperation in Ray’s case stands in marked contrast to U.S. authorities’ decades-long struggle to extradite Chesimard, now known as Assata Shakur, who was granted asylum in Cuba in 1984 after escaping from state prison in New Jersey.

Shakur was convicted in connection with the killing of State Trooper Werner Foerster, who was shot to death on the Turnpike in 1973. Foerster was killed by Sundiata Acoli, who remains in New Jersey State Prison. Shakur, who was at the shooting scene, was also convicted of Foerster’s killing and sentenced to life in prison.    

She is now 71 and believed to still live in Cuba. She remains on the FBI’s list of “most wanted terrorists,” and there’s a $2 million reward for her capture and return.

Cuban officials have rebuffed repeated requests to extradite Shakur, a former member of the Black Liberation Army, maintaining she is a victim of political persecution and has a legitimate basis for an asylum claim. In the 1960s and 70s, Fidel Castro granted asylum to other African Americans as well, all considered to be freedom fighters who committed “political crimes.” 

Since the countries re-established diplomatic ties recently, Cuban authorities have handed over a number of fugitives to the U.S. under similar circumstances as the return of James Ray lll.

Lawyer charged in Montclair killing arrested in Cuba

The U.S. and Cuba, in one of the Obama administration’s last acts, signed a law enforcement agreement to cooperate in the prosecution of “serious crimes,” the phrase Cuban officials used to describe the charges against Ray.

Cuba has maintained since the signing that they would not reverse the asylum given to Shakur and others, and law enforcement leaders have criticized the agreement for not requiring Shakur’s extradition.

Officials Wednesday said the process of returning Ray to the U.S. began with federal prosecutors obtaining a warrant for his arrest on a charge of “unlawful flight to avoid prosecution.”

The federal statute, known as UFAP, allows federal law enforcement agencies to directly help local authorities track down fugitives.

Greg Ehrie, the FBI’s top agent in Newark, said Interpol issued a “red notice” for Ray based on the warrant. The notices, transmitted to all 192 of Interpol’s member countries, are sent to border officials as well as law enforcement agencies to alert them of a fugitive’s wanted status.

FBI agents brought Ray back to New Jersey Tuesday on a flight to Teterboro Airport, officials said. He was turned over to Essex County authorities and lodged in the county jail in Newark.

Ray is scheduled to appear before Superior Court Judge Martin G. Cronin in Newark for a detention hearing, authorities said.

It was unclear as of Thursday whether he had an attorney who could comment on the charges.

Thomas Moriarty may be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @ThomasDMoriartyFind on Facebook

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