Mexican court frees Arizona mom accused of drug smuggling
From Rafael Romo
Senior Latin American Affairs Editor
NOGALES, Mexico (CNN) — A Mexican court released an Arizona woman detained over allegations she tried to smuggle 12 pounds of marijuana under a bus seat.
Yanira Maldonado, a Mormon mother of seven, has denied the charges. She is set to return to the United States after her release Thursday night, according to a state official who has detailed knowledge of the case.
The case has sparked widespread media coverage and attention from U.S. lawmakers as family members pushed for her freedom.
Security footage revealed
Security camera footage revealed in court Thursday shows Maldonado and her husband boarding a bus in Mexico last week. They are carrying a purse, two blankets and two bottles of water.
It’s an everyday scene that plays out at bus stations around the world. But in this case, defense attorney Francisco Benitez argued that the images are a crucial piece of evidence.
Why? Because nothing they’re carrying, he said, could hold the amount of marijuana that Maldonado was accused of smuggling.
Video footage suggests that someone else brought the marijuana aboard the bus, the lawyer said.
Packages of marijuana allegedly recovered from under Maldonado’s seat would not have fit in her purse, Benitez said.
Maldonado’s attorneys also presented documents that show that she and her husband, Gary Maldonado, have no criminal records in the United States, Benitez said.
Word that the surveillance video had been shown in court was a big relief, her husband said.
“That was the key that would help us prove her innocence,” he said.
“It showed right on the film clear as day there’s no way you could carry 12 pounds or 5.7 kilos with one arm,” he said.
The Mexican military officials who arrested Maldonado haven’t made their case yet in court. The soldiers were scheduled to appear Wednesday but didn’t show.
Official: She was framed
Mexican authorities arrested Maldonado on May 22 as she and her husband were on their way back to Arizona.
Gary Maldonado said he believes Mexican soldiers at the checkpoint wanted a bribe. A Mexican state official also told CNN it appears that Maldonado was framed.
A regional office of Mexico’s defense ministry said troops conducting a routine investigation stopped the bus Maldonado was riding in and found 12.5 pounds (5.7 kilograms) of a substance that appeared to be marijuana under her seat.
Troops turned the case over to the Mexican attorney general’s office, the defense ministry said. Maldonado was held in a women’s prison in Nogales.
In an interview Wednesday with CNN, Maldonado said she has been turning to Scripture to survive the ordeal.
“Reading the Scriptures, reading the Book of Mormon, praying, fasting,” Maldonado said. “And all the support that I’ve been getting from my family, my husband, my children and everybody out there reaching out to help.”
Family members’ tearful pleas for her release have drawn widespread media attention and caught the attention of U.S. officials.
“I am watching this very, very closely,” said Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Arizona. “After the hearing tomorrow, if I have concerns, I may end up having to go to Mexico myself and get involved in this thing personally.”
Salmon said he’s spoken about the case with the U.S. ambassador to Mexico and Mexico’s ambassador in Washington.
Witnesses’ testimony that Maldonado was only carrying a purse when she got on the bus is among the details that caught his attention, he said.
State Department officials said consular officials met with Maldonado Wednesday and last Friday.
U.S. diplomats did the same things they would when a U.S. citizen is arrested in a foreign country, but maybe to a higher degree because of the high-profile nature of the case, a senior administration official said.
CNN’s Catherine E. Shoichet contributed to this report.
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