US hijacker in Cuba headed home after 3 decades

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Associated Press

Posted on November 5, 2013 at 3:00 PM

Updated Tuesday, Nov 5 at 3:37 PM

HAVANA (AP) — An American fugitive hijacker said Tuesday he is going home to face justice nearly three decades after he commandeered a plane, flew to Cuba and was thrown behind bars rather than greeted as a fellow revolutionary.

William Potts said U.S. diplomats in Havana contacted him earlier in the day to report that his travel arrangements were made and he could leave on a charter flight to Miami on Wednesday morning, accompanied by American officials.

"As I understand it when I land in Miami the federal escorts will turn me over to U.S. marshals, and what happens after that I couldn't tell you," Potts told The Associated Press by phone from his home in Havana. "I hope to be arraigned soon."

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Interests Section said the diplomatic mission did not have any immediate comment on Potts' case. Cuban officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Potts, now 56, was a young man in 1984 when he pulled a gun hidden in a plaster cast and hijacked a commercial flight headed from New Jersey to Florida. He ordered it to the Communist-run island, where he expected that Cuba would offer him guerrilla training.

Instead, authorities convicted him of air piracy and jailed him for more than 13 years.

On Tuesday, Potts said he seeks "closure" by facing U.S. legal authorities. He argued that the time he served in the Combinado del Este prison outside Havana should mitigate further punishment in the United States, but acknowledged there's no guarantee.

"I'm ready for whatever," Potts said. "My position is, of course, I did the crime and I did the time, and the United States has to recognize that."

U.S. authorities have aggressively prosecuted some returning fugitives, while others saw their sentences reduced significantly for time served elsewhere.

Potts said he looks forward to reuniting with family he hasn't seen in many years, but is also anxious about returning from exile.

"I've got kind of mixed emotions, let me say that at least, about touching American soil for the first time in nearly 30 years," he said. "So much has changed, and I'm just going to have to wait and see what it looks like when I get there."

For years Potts has made his livelihood as a farmer in an eastern suburb of the Cuban capital. He married a Cuban woman with whom he had two children. They have since divorced, but remain close and live together in a modest two-bedroom home in a Cold War-era apartment block. Last year their two daughters went to live with family in Atlanta.

In recent weeks Potts has been working with U.S. Interests Section officials to get a passport to travel back to the United States. Nevertheless, he said his future remains in Havana.

"I'm a permanent resident in Cuba, and just as soon as I finish taking care of this business in the United States, I certainly have every intention of returning to Cuba to live," he said. "I'm here. ... I've lived like half my life here in Cuba now, and my future interests and the things that I want to do are located here in Cuba."

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Peter Orsi on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Peter_Orsi

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