WELLINGTON, New Zealand – A convicted child molester and murderer from New Zealand managed to plan his escape and flee to Brazil while on temporary release before authorities caught up with him Thursday.
Brazilian federal police said in a statement they found Phillip John Smith, 40, in a hostel in the bohemian Santa Teresa neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro. The fugitive was arrested and would be kept in custody pending extradition, police said.
The case has raised plenty of questions about the competence of New Zealand authorities after Smith managed to escape during a three-day temporary release from prison and fly first to Chile and then Brazil.
New Zealand police say he used a passport he obtained under his birth name, Phillip John Traynor.
In an email the fugitive sent earlier this week, he told Radio New Zealand he'd planned his escape by running a criminal check on his birth name and finding it hadn't been red-flagged.
"My only anxiety was that somebody that knew me might happen to be at the airport at the same time to identify me," he wrote.
Smith told the radio station he was able to fund his escape with the proceeds from various enterprises he ran from prison, after earning degrees in accountancy and business studies.
Smith said he chose to flee to Brazil because he figured authorities would face difficulties trying to extradite him if they did catch him, because the country doesn't have a formal extradition treaty with New Zealand.
But Smith's lawyer Tony Ellis told the radio station Thursday that because the fugitive's passport had been cancelled while he was on the run, he could face deportation, generally a much quicker process than extradition.
Smith's offenses in the 1990s horrified many in his home country.
According to The New Zealand Herald newspaper, Smith sexually abused his neighbor's son for three years until 1995. While on bail, he tracked down the 13-year-old boy's family at a new address.
He crept into the family's home during the night and stood over the boy, before his father came rushing in to save him, according to the Herald. Smith then killed the father after repeatedly stabbing him with a hunting knife. Meanwhile, the boy managed to escape and raise the alarm.
Smith was also convicted of a string of other offenses.
He was sentenced to life in prison in 1996. He has since been denied parole, according to the Herald, but recently has been granted temporary prison releases.