Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Exclusive: Ex-hijacker worries about fate

William Potts
Former hijacker William Potts spent 13 years in a Cuban prison for hijacking a plane to the island in 1984. He said he was stunned to learn he might have to spend two more decades in prison for the crime.
“I almost fainted,” Potts told Along the Malecón in his first media interview since turning himself in to U.S. authorities on Nov. 6. “It really rocked me.”

Potts, 56, is being held in isolation at the Federal Detention Center in Miami. He readily admits he hijacked a Piedmont Airlines flight from New York’s LaGuardia Airport to Miami International Airport. He had passed a note to a crew member, threatening to shoot passengers and blow up the plane. He also demanded $5 million.
William Potts at his ex-wife's apartment in Alamar, Cuba
Potts, a former Black Panther, had expected Cuban authorities to welcome him as a fellow revolutionary. Instead, they arrested him and slapped him with a 15-year sentence.
That was Potts’ first big mistake. Now he worries he has made another miscalculation.
Before leaving Cuba, he was confident American authorities would give him credit for the more than 13 years he spent in jail in Cuba, leaving him with just a few years behind bars in the U.S. or maybe no prison time at all.
William Potts
His optimism has since faded.
“I feel like a steer in a stockyard and the end doesn’t look good,” he said by phone from the detention center. “Please help me. I’m facing 20 years to life.”
Potts was counting on getting the same treatment as Robert Patrick Richter, who had hijacked an Air Florida flight from Tampa to Cuba in 1983. Cuban authorities sentenced him to 20 years in prison, but Richter served just four years before returning to the U.S., surrendering to American authorities and receiving a 5-year jail term.
“How can they give him five years and he didn’t even complete his sentence, and they give me 20 years to life?” Potts asked.
Potts has not been tried or sentenced in the U.S. yet, but worries he'll be victim of “a gross double standard of justice.”
“I did the time for the crime that I committed. Robert Richter, nicknamed Casey, spent only four years in jail. He was white. He got every consideration. He got bail. I was thrown in the isolation cell from the beginning.
“This is the first chance I have had to use a telephone. I haven’t even seen the lawyer yet. They haven’t come to see me. I have no confidence in the public defender. It’s a bad situation. I have to beg to get a pencil to prepare my case.”
Robert "Casey" Richter
Things seem to have turned out even worse for Richter, however. He was released on June 16, 1992, and eventually settled in Fort Myers, Fla. But he went missing on June 1, 2003, and his relatives fear he’s been murdered.
A missing persons bulletin said Richter would now be 57 years old, was six feet tall and had brown eyes and brown hair with "a patch of bright white hair in the middle of the back of his head."
Richter also had a scar on the back of his head, where he received 17 stitches after a car accident.
Potts said Richter was his cellmate in Cuba. He said Richter managed to leave Cuba thanks to the efforts of his father, John Richter, then a businessman in the Chicago area.
Robert Richter. Photo: National Missing & Unidentified Persons System
John Richter sent a private plane to Cuba, picked up his son and brought him back to the U.S. to face justice.
Potts’ path back to America has been slower.
He has two daughters, Ntann, 7, and Assata Shakur, 11, named after an American fugitive in Cuba.
The children are living with Potts’ relatives in the U.S.
“I’m fighting for my children and I’m fighting to be reunited with my family,” he said. “It’s kind of crazy.”
Potts’ ex-wife, Aime Quesada, is in Cuba but also hopes to join her children in the United States.
She said she has applied for a U.S. visa, but consular officers in Havana are backed up and can’t see her until September 2015.
Quesada said she’s desperate to go sooner to see her children.
“I hope the Interests Section gives me a visa to go get my children and dedicate myself to them for the rest of my life,” she said.
William Potts
Potts’ trial is set for Dec. 30 in Miami Fort Lauderdale before U.S. District Court Judge Robin S. Rosenbaum. A calendar call in the case is set for 1 p.m. Dec. 18.
Potts urges his supporters to write President Obama to appeal for leniency and he hopes someone will start an online petition or a Facebook campaign on his behalf.
“I’ve got to fight this thing. I feel confident I can win."

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