American hijacker returns from Cuba to face justice

  • Article by: CURT ANDERSON ASSOCIATED PRESS
  • Updated: November 7, 2013 - 3:54 AM
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Accompanied by his wife, Aime Quesada, U.S. citizen William Potts headed to the U.S. Interest Section in Havana on Wednesday.

Photo: Ramon Espinosa, Associated Press

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– An American who hijacked an airliner to Cuba nearly 30 years ago as a self-described revolutionary flew back home Wednesday to face U.S. justice.

FBI agents took William Potts, 56, into custody shortly after his charter flight from Havana landed at Miami International Airport, said FBI spokesman Mike Leverock. Potts faces a 1985 federal indictment charging him with air piracy for hijacking a Piedmont Airlines flight in 1984.

Before leaving Cuba, Potts said he was seeking “closure” and hoped to persuade U.S. prosecutors to give him credit for the 13-plus years he spent in Cuban prison for the hijacking. The U.S. charge carries a sentence of between 20 years and life in prison, federal prosecutors said.

“My position is I am a free man. I have served my time,” Potts said. “But they seem to have another concept. They are going to take control of me. I will be under their authority.”

Potts was taken from the airport to the FBI’s Miami field office and later will be transferred to a downtown detention center. Potts is to make his initial appearance in federal court Thursday afternoon.

U.S. authorities have aggressively prosecuted some returning fugitives, while others saw their sentences reduced significantly for time served elsewhere. Typically, a criminal defendant who pleads guilty and accepts responsibility qualifies for a more lenient sentence.

In the 1960s and 1970s, dozens of American aircraft were hijacked to communist Cuba at the height of the Cold War. But by the time Potts commandeered his plane, they had become less frequent and Cuba had begun prosecuting the hijackers. Potts said he thought Cuba would welcome him and offer him training as a guerrilla. Instead, he was tried and convicted of air piracy.

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  • U.S. citizen William Potts, center, holds the hand of his wife Aime Quesada, as they leave their home in Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2013. On Wednesday, nearly three decades after he forced an airliner to bring him to the Communist-run island, he was heading back to the U.S. and an uncertain legal future. FBI agents took the 56-year-old Potts into custody Wednesday shortly after his charter flight from Havana arrived at Miami International Airport. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

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