NOGALES, Mexico (AP) — An Arizona woman held in a Mexico jail for a week after federal police said they found 12 pounds of marijuana under her bus seat was freed and returned to the U.S. after a court reviewed her case, including key security footage, and dismissed the allegations.
Yanira Maldonado, 42, walked out of the prison on the outskirts of Nogales, Mexico, and into her husband’s arms late Thursday and crossed through the Nogales port of entry into Arizona. After spending the night in a hotel, she drove away with a police escort at midmorning yesterday and was expected to return to her Phoenix-area home to be reunited with her children.
Maldonado spoke briefly after her release, thanking U.S. State Department officials, her husband, her lawyers and prison workers who made her stay comfortable.
“Many thanks to everyone, especially my God who let me go free, my family, my children, who with their help, I was able to survive this test,” she said.
Maldonado also said at a news conference later that she still loves Mexico, and the experience will not stop her from returning in the future to visit family there.
Maldonado’s release came hours after court officials reviewed security footage that showed the couple boarding a commercial bus traveling from Mexico to Phoenix with only blankets, bottles of water and her purse in hand.
U.S. politicians portrayed her as a victim of a corrupt judicial system and demanded her release, with Arizona congressmen saying they were working closely with Mexican authorities.
Maldonado was arrested by the Mexican military last week after they found nearly 12 pounds (5.4 kilograms) of pot under her seat during a security checkpoint.
The family’s lawyer in Nogales, Jose Francisco Benitez Paz, said a judge determined Thursday that Maldonado was no longer a suspect, and all allegations against her were dropped.
Benitez noted it was a fairly sophisticated smuggling effort that included packets of drugs attached to the seat bottoms with metal hooks — a task that would have been impossible for a passenger. He said witness testimony and the surveillance video showed Maldonado was innocent.
“There is justice in this country,” he said.