Sentencing for man in 1984 hijacking of plane to Cuba hits snag over classified documents


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MIAMI — Attorneys for a man who pleaded guilty to hijacking a passenger jet to Cuba requested a sentencing delay Thursday after federal prosecutors filed last minute classified documents in the case.

New Jersey native William Potts Jr., 57, could face up to life in prison for the 1984 hijacking of a Piedmont Airline flight en route from New York to Miami. Potts voluntarily returned to the U.S. last fall and agreed to a plea deal in May.

On Thursday, Potts' public defender Robert Berube told a federal judge he needed more time in light of the latest filing, which even he is prohibited from seeing.

The non-classified portion of the filing by Assistant U.S. Attorney Maria Medetis is long on legal precedent but short on clues as to what information the classified documents contained or why prosecutors felt the need to submit it two days before sentencing.

Prosecutors did not discuss details during Thursday's hearing, and an AP email requesting comment from the U.S. Attorney's office in Miami was not immediately answered.

Potts' sentencing was rescheduled for next Thursday before U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore.

Federal prosecutors had charged Potts with kidnapping in lieu of a previous charge of air piracy, which carried a mandatory prison sentence of at least 20 years. The kidnapping charge has a maximum life sentence, but it allows Moore greater flexibility in sentencing. Medetis has not yet put forth a recommended sentence.

During the hearing, a frustrated Potts said he wanted to a new lawyer because Berube was not negotiating hard enough to keep him out of prison.

"Are you saying you want to drop the guilty plea?" Moore demanded, noting that in signing his plea agreement, Potts had acknowledged he understood the maximum penalties he faced.

Potts conceded he wouldn't drop his plea.

According to the FBI, Potts claimed in his 1984 note to a flight attendant that he had explosives, threatened to blow up the flight and demanded $5 million in ransom.

At the time, Potts identified as "a soldier in the Black Liberation Army," the FBI said. His note urged freedom for black Africans in South Africa and criticized U.S. interference with Nicaragua's Sandinista government.

Potts has said he expected to be welcomed when he landed the plane in Cuba. Instead, Cubans tried him for the hijacking. He spent 13 years in Cuban prison and two more years in government custody there before being released and living in an apartment east of Havana.


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