Broward News

William Potts, Hijacker Behind 1984 Flight to Cuba, Expected to Plead Guilty to Kidnapping

Wearing Broward County Jail khakis, a former black radical who hijacked an airliner in the mid-'80s appeared Tuesday at the Federal Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, hoping to finally close the door on the unresolved past. But a last-minute hold-up kept William Potts from officially entering his guilty plea.

In 1984, William Potts boarded a Piedmont Airlines flight from Newark to Miami. Before the flight got to its destination, the Black Panther took control of the flight and redirected it to Havana.

But instead of finding protection under the revolutionary umbrella of Fidel Castro, Potts was charged with air piracy. He served 13 years in a Cuban prison; he continued to live on the island -- marrying a Cuban woman and having two daughters -- until November 2013. Then, the 57-year-old willingly boarded a plane for the U.S.

At an initial appearance on Tuesday, Potts pleaded not guilty. Later in the day, however, he changed his mind, agreeing to plead guilty to the charge of kidnapping. His previous charge -- air piracy -- carried with it a mandatory 20-year sentence; the lesser kidnapping offense will allow U.S. District Judge Robin Rosenbaum to weigh Potts' time in Cuban jail when determining his sentence.

But a last-minute disagreement on the language of the plea forced the court to reschedule the sentencing for Thursday afternoon. "Just so that we're clear with everyone, we don't want to go to trial," Potts' attorney, David Berube, told the court on Tuesday.

Potts' two daughters are already in the U.S., living with family in Atlanta. His wife, who remains in Cuba, is currently attempting to join Potts stateside.

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Kyle Swenson
Contact: Kyle Swenson