)Date: Wed, 04 Feb 1998 22:42:49 -0600
Joanne Chesimard, NJ's most wanted killer, proclaims innocence from Cuba
Associated Press, 2 March 1998
NEWARK, N.J. (AP) - Joanne Chesimard, a cop killer who escaped from prison in 1979 to become New Jersey's most-wanted fugitive, said in an interview from Cuba that she is not a murderer.
"No, I did not," Chesimard told WNBC-TV from Havana, when asked if she killed a state trooper and wounded another on the New Jersey Turnpike in 1973.
"I was shot with my arms in the air, then shot again in the back and left on the ground to die," Chesimard said.
"She's a liar," said Col. Carl Williams, Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police.
Chesimard has been living in exile in Cuba since the mid-1980s, when she surfaced after escaping from a women's prison in 1979. She would not say how she got to Cuba or where she had been since her escape.
Chesimard, now 50, told the television station she has obtained a master's degree, has written several books in Cuba, and recently became a grandmother.
She said she lives in fear of the New Jersey State Police, saying "They want me dead."
"I'm glad she's afraid," said Williams, but denied police are out to kill her. "We would certainly want to see justice done."
The interview with Chesimard, which took place last week, is scheduled to air Thursday and Friday on WNBC-TV. The station released excerpts on Wednesday.
Chesimard and Clark Squire were convicted of murder, assault, robbery and weapons offenses in the May 2, 1973, slaying of Trooper Werner Foerster and wounding of Trooper James Harper on the turnpike. Police never found out whether Squire or Chesimard shot Foerster, but said Chesimard shot Harper as he was retreating to his police car.
"I was in the car. I was told to put my hands up," Chesimard told WNBC-TV. "I did and Harper ... started to shoot. And after that, everything was like foggy. It was horrible. It was like a prolonged version of hell.
"Y'know, I felt like everything was moving around. My chest started to explode. My head started to explode. And the next thing I knew they were coming by me and saying, `Is she dead yet? Is she dead yet?"'
Chesimard was shot twice by troopers but was arrested five miles from the scene, Williams said.
"As usually happens with criminals, they change things around to make it look like they're the victim," Williams said. "She's a convicted murderer."
Sentenced to life in prison, she made a daring daylight escape from the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women in Clinton on Nov. 2, 1979, when four of her visitors took a guard and a prison driver hostage.
Williams recently wrote a letter to Pope John Paul II asking him to approach Cuban President Fidel Castro about extraditing Chesimard. There is no extradition treaty between Cuba and the United States.
"To see that she's still out there, basically a free person in Cuba, it's upsetting to our organization," Williams said. "She looks like she's fit as a fiddle, very well off, and living the good life.
"It's a shame that she's not back where she belongs in New Jersey, serving her sentence."