Black Panther, back from Cuba, pleads not guilty to hijacking

A former Black Panther, accused of hijacking a plane in 1984, pleaded not guilty Wednesday in US federal court, where he faces charges after returning from nearly three decades in Cuba.

Represented by public defender Paul Korchin, William Potts gave his plea to Judge Barry Garber in Miami.

A bail hearing was postponed until Tuesday at the request of Korchin, who explained to the judge that, in a last minute development, an arrest warrant against Potts for armed assault in New Jersey in August 1984 had come to light.

"I need some time to confirm the background of this case," Korchin said, accompanied by Potts, who was handcuffed and wearing a beige prisoner's uniform.

Potts, now 56, called himself William Freeman and "Lieutenant Spartacus" as a Black Panther. He returned to the United States last week, and was detained upon landing at Miami International Airport.

The next day, November 7, he made his first court appearance.

He is accused of hijacking a plane on March 27, 1984 -- Piedmont Airlines flight 337 -- giving a note to flight attendants calling for his brothers and sisters in South Africa to be freed and criticizing US policy toward Nicaragua's Sandinistas.

The note said the plane must divert to Havana, instead of its intended destination of Miami, or he would blow it up. He also demanded a ransom of $5 million.

When he landed in Havana, he was arrested by Cuban authorities and spent 13 years in jail on the Caribbean island.

After his release in Cuba, Potts started a new life in Havana. He married, had two daughters and converted to Islam.

With his daughters now living in the United States, Potts decided to come back in the hopes of being able to see them again.

Speaking on US news network CNN, Potts said he was filled with regret for having hijacked a plane and expressed hope any prison sentence he faces in the United States will be reduced by the time he has already served in Cuba.

He told CNN he had been unable to negotiate a plea deal with US authorities.

Potts faces 20 years to life in jail if he is found guilty on the hijacking charges.