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Miami judge denies bond for hijacker returned home from Cuba

By Zachary Fagenson

MIAMI (Reuters) - A former member of the Black Panther Party charged with hijacking a U.S. plane and forcing it to fly to Cuba nearly 30 years ago, was denied bail in U.S. federal court on Tuesday.

William Potts, 56, made his third court appearance in Miami since he returned to the United States from Cuba two weeks ago to face justice.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Jonathan Goodman ruled Potts was a "flight risk," due to the potential 20-year jail sentence he faces, as well outstanding charges in New Jersey.

Potts is charged with hijacking a Piedmont Airlines flight in 1984 and demanding it re-route from Florida to Havana. He was arrested when the plane arrived in the Cuban capital, charged with air piracy and sentenced to 13 years in a Cuban prison.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Maria Medetis said Potts has previously admitted guilt to an act of terrorism, and cited an outstanding 1984 arrest warrant in New Jersey on armed robbery charges a day before the March 27 hijacking.

"The defendant with a knife held up an 18-year-old gas station attendant and fled with the cash," she said.

Federal Public Defender Paul Korchin argued that Potts had already been prosecuted in Cuba for the hijacking and served a total of 16 years in prison there, before he was released more than a decade ago.

"There's no indication that between his release in Cuba and arrival here he committed any crimes," he said. "He wants to be in the U.S.," where his two daughters now live, he added.

"His entire family is willing to cosign a bond. We suggest there are conditions that can be fashioned to ensure his appearance."

Potts told reporters before he left Havana on a charter flight to Miami November 6 that he was seeking "closure" and hoped to persuade U.S. prosecutors to take into consideration the time he served in a Cuban prison.

Potts is thought to be one of the last of more than a dozen members of the Black Panthers, a black nationalist group, living in Cuba. Others have returned home to face long prison terms or have died.

Cuba has regularly returned U.S. fugitives since 2006, but Washington says dozens remain in the Caribbean country.

(Editing by David Adams; Editing by Alden Bentley)

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