A man who returned to Miami nearly 30 years after hijacking a plane and forcing the pilot to fly him to Cuba was denied bond Tuesday.
William Potts Jr., 56, appeared at a hearing in federal court in Miami where a Judge Jonathan Goodman denied him bond.
During the hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Maria Medetis said Potts faces still-active charges that he robbed a gas station attendant at knifepoint in Bergen County, N.J., on March 26, 1984.
Potts has pleaded not guilty to charges of air piracy related to the hijacking of a Piedmont Airlines plane the day after the gas station robbery.
Medetis told Goodman that Potts would be arrested by New Jersey authorities if released on bail in the hijacking case. She also contended that Potts, a fugitive for nearly 30 years, could easily flee prosecution and is a danger to the community, based on the robbery charge and the hijacking itself.
"He has on a number of occasions admitted to the offense," Medetis said. "He described what he did as an act of terrorism."
Potts' attorney, Paul Korchin, noted that Potts voluntarily returned to the U.S. to resolve the charges and that his mother and several siblings living in the Atlanta area would co-sign for any bail amount. His two daughters, Korchin said, were permitted to come from Cuba to the U.S. in December 2012 and now live with Potts' mother.
"He has arrived at the place he wants to be," Korchin said.
Goodman, however, sided with the prosecutor against bail, noting that under air piracy laws there is a presumption for a defendant to be kept jailed before trial except under unusual circumstances. Goodman also noted that Potts faces a sentence of 20 years to life, a prime incentive to flee the country.
Potts was taken into custody by FBI agents earlier this month after he arrived at Miami International Airport on a charter flight from Havana.
According to the original 1985 indictment, Potts was on Flight 337 from LaGuardia Airport in New York to Miami when he handed a flight attendant a handwritten note saying there were explosives on board and that the plane would be blown up if it landed in Miami.
Potts, who called himself "Lt. Spartacus" and said he was a soldier in the Black Liberation Army, demanded he be flown to Jose Marti International Airport in Havana, according to the indictment.
Once the plane landed in Havana, Potts was arrested and he later served more than 13 years in a Cuban prison. He had been living in the communist nation since his release.
Potts has said he returned from Cuba earlier this month to put an end to the case. He said he hopes to get credit for the time he served in the Cuban prison.
Medetis said Potts admitted the hijacking in interviews with the FBI and in a written statement after he returned to the U.S. She said there's no requirement for a judge to count Potts' Cuban jail time toward any U.S. sentence.
Goodman agreed, telling Potts that a federal judge "would have the discretion to give some credit, a little bit of credit, all the credit or no credit.'"
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