A case of homesickness leads an escaped hijacker back to the US

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: Imagine traveling from one country to another, knowing you could be arrested the minute you arrive. Many undocumented immigrants know that feeling. So does William Potts, who was detained by the FBI today, right after he landed in Miami on a charter plane from Cuba. He knew that might happen. Twenty-nine years ago Potts hijacked a Piedmont airlines flight from Newark to Miami. Potts claimed he was a member of the Black Liberation Army and forced the pilots to land in Cuba. He expected a hero's welcome from Communist authorities there. Instead they arrested him and he wound up spending 13 years in a Cuban jail. He's lived on the island ever since, but now he's returned to face a still pending US indictment against him. AP reporter Peter Orsi is in Nevada and he talked to William Potts yesterday before he left.

Peter Orsi: Well he said he feels like he needs closure. He wants to put this behind him. He said on this occasion and also in the past that he has regret for what he's done. He refers to himself or has referred to himself in the past as the "Homesick Hijacker." I think, what he tells me is that he wants to put this part of his life behind him. He wants to sort of face justice in the United States and hopefully move on.

Werman: The whole narrative of this man be a "homesick hijacker" is kind of baffling. After feeling so strongly that his cause of black militancy in the US needed an act like hijacking a plane. Did you find that an odd explanation?

Orsi: Perhaps. The man is 56 years old right now and he was in his mid 20's when he committed this hijacking. At the time he was I think very idealistic and militant in his beliefs. I think what he found was a pretty rude awakening. He expected probably to be created as a fellow revolutionary. He had hoped to be trained as a Guerilla and instead a human court convicted him of air piracy which is essentially the Spanish term for hijacking and he did thirteen and a half years in prison.

Werman: And what's he been doing in Cuba all this time?

Orsi: Well back in 2009 we reported that he had spent at least some time operating an illegal internet cafe out of his house. When I spoke to him yesterday he was living in a sort of suburban area outside of Havana and he told me that he was farming.

Werman: What did Potts tell you before leaving about his feelings about returning to the US?

Orsi: He told me that he is just going to get there and see what it's like and sort of figure it out as it goes, and i think sort of figure out a new relationship with his homeland.

Werman: He says he wants closure, but can he get closure if he's going to do another prison sentence in the United States?

Orsi: That certainly remains to be seen. His argument is that he's served thirteen and a half years in Cuba and that should mean that he shouldn't have to serve any time in the United States. However there is still and indictment pending against him in the Florida Court, and in the past, the US authorities have had sort of a mixed approach to returning fugitives. Some of them have been prosecuted very aggressively. Others have seen significantly reduced prison sentences. So, we'll have to see what happens. It'll be up to legal authorities in the United States to figure out what's going to happen to him. Although he is very clear in that his preference and his belief is that he shouldn't serve any additional time. As he told me "I did the crime and I did the time."

Werman: I mean given his hopes of being treated like a hero on arrival in Cuba a number of years ago, it's hard to imagine he really believes he's not going to do time here in the United States.

Orsi: Well I think that's his argument and we'll just wait and see if it holds up in court.

Werman: The associated press' Peter Orsi in Havana. Thanks very much.

Orsi: It's my pleasure. Thank you.