Arizona Mom Accused of Drug Smuggling Freed from Mexican Jail


ABC News(NOGALES, Ariz.) — The Arizona mother detained in Mexico for more than a week on drug charges has been released and will be returning home to the U.S.

Yanira Maldonado, 42, walked out of the jail late Thursday night local time, and thanked well-wishers and Mexican officials.  Maldonado told one jail official in Spanish, “Thank you for everything and the quality of person you are.”

“Is this it?” Maldonado asked officials moments after being released.  “Thank you.  God bless you,” she added before leaving.

Maldonado met with reporters briefly and said, “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.”

Maldonado was met with a hug from her husband Gary, who brought her to a waiting car.  The couple hugged again in the car before leaving.

Maldonado’s brother-in-law, Brandon Klipple, told ABC News in a brief statement minutes before her release, “Yanira is being released now.  See you at the jail.”

Hours before her release, court officials reviewed surveillance footage that showed Maldonado and her husband boarding a bus in Mexico on May 22.  Maldonado was carrying a black, medium-sized purse and two bottles of water.  Her husband was carrying blankets.

Maldonado was detained by authorities after Mexican soldiers said they discovered 12 pounds of marijuana under her bus at a check point in Hermosillo, Mexico.

The surveillance video, which has not been released to the public, was reviewed by ABC News on Thursday.

The family’s lawyer in Nogales, Mexico, told reporters the surveillance video clearly showed she did not bring 12 pounds of marijuana onto the bus.

“The evidence was very clear that she never [had] contact with the drug,” Jose Francisco Benitez Paz said minutes after Maldonado was released.

Earlier this week, Mexican officials provided local media with photos that they said were of the packages Maldonado was accused of smuggling.  Each was about 5 inches high and 20 inches wide.

Maldonado’s lawyer said the packets of drugs were attached to the seat bottoms with metal hooks, calling that a task that would have been impossible for a passenger boarding normally to do.

The soldiers who detained Maldonado did not appear in court to make their case against her.  The judge presiding over the case was expected to make a decision about Maldonado’s fate later on Friday, but the family received word late Thursday night that she would be released early.

Maldonado maintained her innocence throughout her detainment and her family believes she was framed.  Maldonado was being held at a jail in Nogales while authorities decided her fate.

“I was in shock.  I’m like this is not real.  This is not happening.  I don’t know.  I thought maybe this was a set-up or a joke or something.  I was just waiting for it to end but I realized that it’s real, that I’m being detained,” Maldonado told ABC News affiliate KNXV-TV Wednesday in a jail-house interview.

At the check point, the soldiers who accused her of trafficking drugs took her into custody.  Her husband was released after initially being suspected of smuggling.

Maldonado said a Mexican official told her she had to plead guilty despite her insistence that she was innocent.

“She’s like, ‘I’m here to help.  I’m here to put criminals behind bars,’ and I thought, ‘Thank God.  I’m innocent.’  So, I thought that she was here to help me and she didn’t,” Maldonado said on Wednesday.

The family said an attorney in Mexico told them they could bribe the judge.  Gary Maldonado frantically had family wire him $5,000 for the bribe.  He says, although the money was offered, it was not accepted.

Yanira Maldonado, a naturalized U.S. citizen who was born in Mexico, is a mother of seven and a devout Mormon.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

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