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American pleads guilty in 1984 Cuba jet hijacking

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — An American who returned from Cuba after hijacking a jetliner to the communist island 30 years ago pleaded guilty Thursday to a US kidnapping charge. Now, he is hoping for credit for the time he served behind bars in Cuba.

William Potts, 57, entered the plea before US District Judge Robin Rosenbaum. In interviews before his return from Cuba last year, Potts said he decided to return after such a long time to finally resolve the US case. His lawyer, Assistant Federal Public Defender Robert Berube, said Potts has children living in the United States and wanted to get out of Cuba.

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‘‘He wants to put this behind him,’’ Berube said. ‘‘He didn’t have to come back, but he did.’’

Federal prosecutors substituted the kidnapping count for a previous charge of air piracy, which carried a mandatory prison sentence of at least 20 years. Although the kidnapping charge has a maximum life sentence, it gives Rosenbaum more flexibility in sentencing Potts.

Potts is seeking credit for 15 years he served in a Cuban prison, although in his plea agreement Potts acknowledged Rosenbaum is under no legal obligation to do so. The plea deal says the judge can consider the Cuban time as one factor in his US sentence.

‘‘There’s no guarantee of that, but 15 years in a Cuban prison is pretty hard time,’’ Berube said.

Sentencing on the US conviction was set for July 11.

‘‘It’s entirely up to the court what your sentence will be,’’ Rosenbaum reminded Potts.

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