Wright scoots his chair back from the kitchen table and stretches his legs, exposing the black monitor clamped to his ankle. It’s taken him four days to tell me his story, interrupted by frequent visitors offering support. The owner of a local barbecue restaurant came by and grilled kebabs. Neighbors brought Tupperwared meals, bags of fruit, a pile of chestnuts. Two friends delivered a blank canvas.
Letters championing his freedom have poured into his attorney’s office—from friends, members of his church, fellow volunteers, people he’d met in his various travels. Former players of his from Guinea-Bissau have organized a charity basketball tournament in Lisbon and are raising funds.
This pro-Wright solidarity, authorities in the U.S. complain, is rooted in anti-American sentiment. But something deeper is also at work. In much of Europe, there is abiding belief in the healing power of time, and in Portugal there is even a statute of limitations for murder—in Wright’s case, thirty years. In the United States, homicide is never legally forgiven. If Wright is extradited, he’ll almost certainly die while still imprisoned.
The Portuguese view Wright as someone who couldn’t possibly pose a threat to society. He’s nearly 70 years old, and in four decades he hasn’t received so much as a parking ticket. They view him as a person who’s been fully rehabilitated outside of prison. They don’t even see him as George Wright. He’s Jorge Santos, and has been for years. George Wright no longer exists. How can you punish a man who doesn’t exist?
During the day, when the house is bustling, Wright is able to maintain a facade of good spirits. But at night, alone with his thoughts, things are different. The evening he finishes his story, he and I are the last ones awake. Wright, feeling chilled, sits before his fireplace on a tiny wooden stool he’d brought back from Guinea-Bissau. He begins crumpling sheets of newspaper.
“I couldn’t sleep last night,” he says to me. “Finally I got up. I turned on the TV, but there was nothing but sex and guns. I turned it off. I sat there listening to the sounds of the night.”
Wright strikes a match. The fire slowly catches. He’s silent for a moment, an old man with high blood pressure, bad knees, and glaucoma, facing the rest of his life in prison.
“Then I woke up Rosário. I held her. I told her how scared I was. Then we both cried.”