A Cuban man convicted of air piracy in the U.S. after landing a hijacked plane in Key West is asking a federal judge to reconsider his 20-year prison sentence.
Ardemis Wilson Gonzalez was sentenced months after his April 2003 landing in Key West. He currently is held at a federal prison in Pennsylvania and is scheduled to be released in June 2021, said U.S. Bureau of Prisons spokesman Chris Burke.
The Key West Citizen reports that Gonzalez this month asked a federal judge to release him from prison early. In his motion, he said he committed the hijacking to escape the "mental anguish of living within an oppressive regime" and meant no harm to anyone else on the plane.
"Through the eyes of some, I am an extreme and hostile person, but to others, I am a hero, a patriot, who stood for what is right," Gonzalez wrote. "I truly and sincerely apologize for these actions, and I say that in looking back. My decisions were purely emotionally driven due to my lack of rational thinking and cognitive skills. As a father and husband, one would or at the time would have done, anything to help (my family) escape the clutches of a regime that is quite readily been given the characterization of an oppressive dictatorship."
He also said that he's now paralyzed and uses a wheelchair.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Patrick White filed an order Dec. 11 stating that Gonzalez's motion constitutes a new case.
Gonzalez used two fake hand grenades to commandeer a small plane in Cuba in April 2003. He released some other passengers in Havana before refueling and flying to Key West International Airport.
"We call it the 'papaya in his pocket incident,'" said Monroe County Airports Director Peter Horton.
It was the third suspicious plane from Cuba to approach Key West in four months when it landed April 1, 2003.
"I said, 'Yeah, right. April Fool's!'" Horton said. "The tower said, 'No, turn on CNN. They're saying it's headed to Key West.' If you are an airport director here, you have to be prepared to deal with these events. These things just happen down here. You gotta be flexible."
The plane remains at the Key West airport, where law enforcement and emergency response agencies use it for training.