Friday, July 18, 2014

U.S. hijacker of jet to Cuba in 1984 is sentenced to 20 years in Miami federal court

Posted on Thursday, 07.17.14

U.S. hijacker of jet to Cuba in 1984 is sentenced to 20 years in Miami
federal court

William Potts Jr., a self-described black militant who hijacked a U.S.
jetliner to Cuba 30 years ago, told a Miami federal judge Thursday that
he was no longer that "same person."

Potts said that after serving 13 years in a Cuban prison and raising a
family on the island for another 16 years, he finally surrendered to
federal authorities in November because he wanted to be reunited with
his daughters, now living in the United States.

"If you just give me a chance, judge, I'll do you proud," Potts, 57,
told U.S. District Judge Michael Moore. "I'm begging you, please, let me
go back to my children."

Moore sentenced Potts to 20 years in prison for hijacking the New
York-to-Miami flight to Havana in 1984 — but it's unlikely the former
New Jersey resident will have to serve the full term.

Moore sided with the prosecution's recommended sentence, which would
allow the U.S. citizen to seek parole in about seven years.

In effect, Potts would be given credit for the 13 years he had already
served in a Cuban prison, which was described as a "hell-hole" by his
defense attorney. But under U.S. law, the judge could not legally give
Potts that credit because he had served that time for being convicted of
the hijacking offense in Cuba.

Potts' lawyer, assistant federal public defender Robert Berube, urged
the judge to give him 15 years, with the opportunity to seek parole in
five years. "We're a country of laws, but it comes to the point where
you have to say, 'Enough is enough,' '' Berube said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Maria Medetis told the judge that the U.S.
government had already given Potts the benefit of the doubt by agreeing
to change the charge against him in a plea deal so he could qualify for
parole in about seven years.

In May, Potts pleaded guilty to a new kidnapping charge that helped him
avoid a minimum-mandatory 20-year prison sentence for the original
charge, air piracy.

Although that new offense carried up to life in prison, it gave the
judge leeway to craft a prison sentence that effectively took into
account Potts' lengthy incarceration in Cuba. The kidnapping offense
imposed no minimum-mandatory punishment.

In November, Potts had initially entered a not guilty plea to the
original air-piracy charge, which carried between 20 years and life in

The U.S. attorney's office dropped that charge, after Potts was
sentenced on the new kidnapping offense.

A factual statement filed with his plea agreement said Potts claimed to
have explosives aboard the New York-to-Miami Piedmont Airlines flight on
March 27, 1984, demanding its diversion to Havana.

Potts, who described himself as a black militant, handed a note to a
flight attendant in which he identified himself as "Lt. Spartacus." The
flight attendant took the note to the pilots.

"[Potts] ordered the pilot to divert the aircraft to Havana, Cuba," the
statement said.

"The note further stated that if the aircraft landed in Miami, [Potts]
would hold the passengers, shoot them and blow up the aircraft with two
explosives that [he] claimed to have placed on board the plane."

He also demanded $5 million.

Potts went to the back of the aircraft and spoke to one of the pilots
over the intercom system. Potts "reiterated his demands and threats ...
and the pilot diverted the aircraft and landed in Havana."

After decades on the lam, Potts said in interviews on the island that he
wanted to return home and face American justice. He got married while
living in Cuba, and his two daughters now live in the United States.

In the interviews, Potts said that when he hijacked the Piedmont flight
to Cuba, he had hoped to be welcomed in the Communist-run island nation
as a revolutionary and be given guerrilla training.

Instead, the Castro government arrested him, tried him for the
hijacking, and imprisoned him. Potts' commandeering of the airliner came
several years after a wave of similar hijackings had largely subsided.

According to the FBI, Potts paid $119 for the ticket he used to hijack
the Piedmont flight.

An aunt in Paterson, N.J., said she had given him $120 the day before to
pay her electric bill and had not seen him since.

Source: U.S. hijacker of jet to Cuba in 1984 is sentenced to 20 years in
Miami federal court - Miami-Dade - -

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