ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) – The New Mexico State Police chief said Thursday he would personally pay for a return ticket for a fugitive living in Cuba who is wanted in the killing of a state police officer and who fled during a plane hijacking.
Chief Pete Kassetas said his agency is working with the FBI on the possible return of Charlie Hill to face charges after the U.S. and Cuba restored formal diplomatic relations.
"I'm cautiously optimistic he'll be extradited back to the U.S.," Kassetas said. "I hope I have enough money to cover" Hill's ticket."
Hill is one of a number of America's most-wanted fugitives who made new lives for themselves in Cuba after fleeing the U.S. years ago and are now the focus of possible extradition under restored relations.
In the 1960s and 1970s, dozens of American aircraft were hijacked to communist Cuba at the height of the Cold War. Hill and other fugitives were granted political asylum by former President Fidel Castro, and they became players in his government's outreach to American minorities and leftists.
Cuba and the U.S. re-established diplomatic relations Monday and have begun talks about law enforcement cooperation but those talks are in highly preliminary stages.
Cuban officials have explicitly said they are unwilling to extradite any fugitives like Hill, whose cases they consider political because they involve black and Latino militants whom Castro offered asylum during the Cold War.
In another ongoing case, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie recently urged the Obama administration to demand the return of a woman who escaped to Cuba after being convicted in 1977 of killing a New Jersey state trooper.
Joanne Chesimard, now known as Assata Shakur, has lived on the island since the 1980s.
Hill fled to the communist island after authorities say he and two other men killed New Mexico state police officer Robert Rosenbloom in 1971 following a traffic stop.
Fingerprints found after the slaying in an abandoned car led to murder warrants being issued for Hill, Michael Finney and Ralph Goodwin, who were all in their early 20s at the time.
Police said the car contained numerous pieces of literature, including pamphlets for the Republic of New Afrika, a black nationalist movement dedicated to establishing a separate black nation in the Southern U.S.
Three weeks after Rosenbloom was killed, the men escaped an extensive manhunt by bounding up the stairway of a Trans World Airlines plane at the Albuquerque airport and hijacking a Phoenix-bound flight to Cuba.
Finney and Goodwin died in Cuba. Hill, now 65, told CNN in April he was considering a return to the U.S. because he missed his family and food such as blackberry pie.
As President Barack Obama moved to thaw relations with Cuba, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez in December renewed a request for the extradition of Hill.
The Republican governor has sought help from the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Department of Justice in the matter, Martinez spokesman Mike Lonergan said Thursday.
Bill Richardson, a former governor, congressman and ambassador, said he had pushed for extradition in talks with then-President Fidel Castro during the 1980s but was stonewalled.
Sen. Tom Udall, a New Mexico Democrat who recently led a four-member Democratic congressional delegation to Cuba, was asked about fugitives who have found refuge in Cuba. Udall raised the example of Hill and said he should be extradited.