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November 2, 1979, Assata Shakur Escapes From Federal Prison - Today In Crime History

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On this day, November 2, in the year 1979, three members of the Black Liberation Army broke fellow BLA member Assata Shakur out of the Clinton Correctional Facility for Women in Union Township, NJ.  Shakur was the step-aunt of deceased hip hop icon Tupac Shakur (the sister of his stepfather, Mutulu Shakur).

In 1973 Shakur was involved in a shootout on the New Jersey Turnpike, during which New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster and BLA member Zayd Malik Shakur were killed.  Shakur and Trooper James Harper were wounded in that gun fight.   Between 1973 and 1977, Shakur was indicted in six other alleged criminal incidents and charged with murder, attempted murder, armed robbery, bank robbery, and kidnapping.  The ensuing criminal litigation in those unrelated cases resulted in three acquittals and three dismissals.  In 1977, however, she was convicted of the first-degree murder of Foerster and of seven other felonies related to New Jersey Turnpike shootout, resulting in a life sentence.

On November 2, 1979, the escape began when three BLA members, posing as prison visitors, drew .45 pistols and took two correction officers hostage. They seized a prison van and used it to flee the correctional facility with Shakur. Once outside the federal prison, the group switched vehicles and made their getaway. The two hostages were released unharmed.

After escaping prison, it is believed Shakur lived as a fugitive in the U.S. and eventually fled to Cuba where she was granted asylum.  Since May 2, 2005, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has classified her as a "domestic terrorist" and offered a $1 million reward for assistance in her capture.  To this day Shakur has not been recaptured.

On December 30, 2014 an "Open Letter" from Assata Shakur was published by the independent media outlet CounterPunch.  In that letter Shakur describes herself as an "escaped slave"  and details the circumstances that led to her incarceration.  According to that letter, Shakur has been living in Cuba since 1984.

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Michael Buchanan is a practicing criminal defense attorney in Gainesville, Florida, with more than 25 years experience defending people accused of criminal misconduct. He is a former president of the Eighth Judicial Circuit chapter of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. He is a member of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. Read detailed professional biography here.