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American Who Hijacked Plane To Cuba Pleads Guilty

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William Potts leaving Havana on Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2013. (Source: CBS4)

William Potts leaving Havana on Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2013. (Source: CBS4)

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MIAMI (CBSMiami/AP) – An American who returned from Cuba last year, three decades after he hijacked a jetliner to the communist island, has pleaded guilty to kidnapping in a South Florida federal court.

The plea was entered Thursday by 57-year-old William Potts, who said he returned last year from Cuba to resolve the 30-year-old U.S. case.

The kidnapping count replaces a charge of air piracy, which carried a mandatory prison sentence of at least 20 years. His attorney says Potts is seeking credit for 15 years he served in a Cuban prison. He still faces a maximum life term when he is sentenced in July.

In 1984 Potts, a member of the Black Panthers, boarded a plane out of Newark Airport with a pistol. He hijacked the plane which was flying to Miami, and demanded the pilots fly to Havana, Cuba.

He reportedly went to Cuba intending to learn how to overthrow the U.S. government. When they landed, Potts thought he’d be greeted as a hero by the Castro administration and trained in revolutionary military tactics. Instead, Cuba put him on trial and imprisoned him for at least 13-years.

Cuban officials did offer Potts a chance to return to America before his initial trial, but Potts decided to stay on the island to prove his revolutionary bona fides.

After Potts was released from prison he continued to live in Cuba and had two daughters. Though, Cuba wasn’t particularly harboring him.

In November 2013, he voluntarily returned to America after receiving a one use passport from the United States Interests Section.

Potts’ daughters were allowed to leave Cuba in 2012 and are currently living in Georgia with family.

Potts hopes that his time served in a Cuban prison could mitigate his sentencing in the U.S.

(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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