Pubdate: Fri, 31 May 2013
Source: Arizona Republic (Phoenix, AZ)
Copyright: 2013 The Arizona Republic
Author: Daniel Gonzalez


A Mormon mother from Goodyear whose detention in a Mexico jail on 
suspicion of drug smuggling made international headlines, inspired a 
"Free Yanira" hashtag on Twitter and won the attention of politicians 
on both sides of the border was freed by a judge late Thursday after 
spending nine days in jail.

Family members said a surveillance video shown during a court hearing 
Thursday helped prove that Yanira Maldonado was not trying to smuggle 
bundles of marijuana as had been alleged by Mexican federal 
authorities last week.

U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who has been assisting the family, 
confirmed on Twitter that she was being set free. He tweeted at 10:28 
p.m.: "Great news. Just had it confirmed by Consul General. Yanira 
Maldonado has been released."

Family spokesman Brandon Klippel told the media about 10 p.m. that 
Maldonado was being freed from the jail in Nogales, Sonora, where she 
had been held since May 22. Media saw her leave the jail just after 
11 p.m. into the waiting arms of her husband and other family members.

Klippel, brother-in-law of Yanira Maldonado's husband, Gary, said she 
would immediately cross the border into the United States.

Her husband, Gary, said at a news conference earlier Thursday that 
the family was optimistic Maldonado, 42, would be released after 
surveillance video showed her boarding a bus in Mexico on her way 
back to Arizona carrying two blankets, two water bottles and her 
purse, but no drugs. She had been arrested after soldiers found drugs 
under her seat on the bus.

"She was in a good mood because she feels she is going to get out," he said.

His father, Larry Maldonado, said he was among a room full of people 
allowed to watch the 20-minute surveillance video before it was 
turned over to the judge, who later decided to dismiss the 
drug-smuggling case. Her attorney subpoenaed the bus company to 
obtain the tape.

Had she been found guilty, she could have faced 10 years in prison in 
Mexico, Larry said.

Yanira's arrest drew international attention after family members 
began publicizing the case on social media. They insisted she was not 
guilty and said she was the victim of a nightmarish mistake that 
turned the lives of her and her husband upside down.

Flake and U.S. Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., have been in contact with 
family members as well as with U.S. State Department officials and 
officials from the Mexican Embassy. On Thursday, Mexican officials told

that Yanira was detained because Mexican soldiers found 12.3 pounds 
of marijuana hidden under her seat and an empty seat near her while 
she was traveling on a commercial passenger bus with her husband.

The couple were sitting together, with Gary in the aisle seat and 
Yanira in the window seat, said Larry, who added that there were 
empty seats around them.

"As a matter of fact, she was sitting over the drugs. So, because of 
that, she was arrested as a suspect of drug trafficking," said Denise 
Coronado, a spokeswoman for the regional office of Mexico's 
Secretariat of National Defense in Sonora. Coronado said the bus 
driver was also arrested, which is standard protocol.

Mexican soldiers found the drugs after the bus was stopped at 8 a.m. 
May 22 for a routine inspection near Querobabi in the state of 
Sonora, Coronado said. Querobabi is about 60 miles north of 
Hermosillo on the highway between Hermosillo and Nogales.

The case was then turned over to federal prosecutors, who are 
responsible for investigating whether the drugs belonged to Yanira, 
Coronado said.

Coronado said soldiers have found marijuana hidden on commercial 
passenger buses in the past, but "it is not common."

Patricia Monroy, a spokeswoman for the Mexican Attorney General's 
Office in Sonora, and Lydia Antonio de la Garza, a spokeswoman for 
the Mexican Embassy, declined to answer questions about the case.

Yanira and Gary, 41, were returning to the Valley after attending a 
funeral for Yanira's aunt near Los Mochis in Sinaloa, the Mexican 
state south of Sonora, when the bus passed through the military 
checkpoint, Larry said.

Family members presented testimony and evidence to try to prove 
Yanira was not guilty, he said. Five witnesses testified in court on 
her behalf on Tuesday, including her husband, Larry said. Two 
relatives who drove Yanira and Gary to the bus station and two bus 
passengers testified, Yanira's father-in-law said.

On Wednesday, the soldiers who found the drugs were scheduled to 
testify, but they did not show up, Larry said.

Coronado said the soldiers were not given sufficient notice to leave 
their posts near Hermosillo and make the 11:30 a.m. hearing.

The Maldonados have been married for a year and have seven children 
from previous marriages. They are active members of the Church of 
Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and met at church.
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