MIAMI — An American who returned from Cuba to face US charges that he hijacked an airliner to Havana decades ago was denied release on bail Tuesday, in part because of an outstanding arrest warrant claiming he committed a New Jersey armed robbery.
Assistant US Attorney Maria Medetis said at a bail hearing that William Potts faces still-active charges that he robbed a gas station attendant at knifepoint in Bergen County, N.J., on March 26, 1984. That is the day before Potts boarded a New York-to-Miami flight and hijacked it to Havana by claiming in a note that he was a black militant called ‘‘Lt. Spartacus’’ who had bombs on board, according to the FBI.
Medetis told US Magistrate Judge Jonathan Goodman that Potts would be arrested by New Jersey authorities if released on bail in the hijacking case. She also contended that Potts, a fugitive for nearly 30 years, could easily flee prosecution and is a danger to the community, based on the robbery charge and the hijacking itself.
‘‘He has on a number of occasions admitted to the offense,’’ Medetis said. ‘‘He described what he did as an act of terrorism.’’
Potts’s attorney, Paul Korchin, noted that Potts voluntarily returned to the United States to resolve the charges and that his mother and several siblings living in the Atlanta area would cosign for any bail amount.
His two daughters, Korchin said, were permitted to come from Cuba to the United States in December 2012 and now live with Potts’s mother.
‘‘He has arrived at the place he wants to be,’’ Korchin said.
Goodman, however, sided with the prosecutor against bail, noting that under air piracy laws there is a presumption for a defendant to be kept jailed before trial except under unusual circumstances.
Goodman also noted that Potts faces a sentence of 20 years to life, a prime incentive to flee the country.