Skip to main content

Arizona mom freed from Mexican jail 'screamed' for joy

From Rafael Romo, Senior Latin American Affairs Editor
June 2, 2013 -- Updated 1814 GMT (0214 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Yanira Maldonado calls for those who arrested her to "repent"
  • Maldonado's attorney cites security camera footage as crucial evidence
  • Maldonado was accused of smuggling drugs on a bus
  • Mexican court determines prosecutors did not provide evidence.

Nogales, Mexico (CNN) -- An American woman who was released from a Mexican jail cried out for joy when she crossed the border into Arizona. "I'm home! Finally!" Yanira Maldonado exclaimed.

Mexican authorities detained her last week and put her behind bars over allegations she tried to smuggle 12 pounds of marijuana under a bus seat.

She and her husband, Gary, were traveling from Mexico back to the United States when their bus was stopped and searched. Yanira Maldonado allegedly was sitting above the illegal stash.

Maldonado's case sparked widespread media coverage and attention from U.S. lawmakers as family members pushed for her freedom. At a press conference early Friday in Nogales, Arizona, she thanked journalists, crediting them for her expedited release.

The quality of her conditions in jail also improved as the media coverage increased, she told CNN affiliate KPNX-TV in Phoenix.

Arizona mom: 'I'm free now!'
Yanira Maldonado released from jail
Defense: Video proves woman's innocence
How dangerous is it to travel in Mexico?

A court official delivered the good news to her in jail Thursday. "I screamed," Maldonado said.

The Arizonan and mother of seven had consistently denied the charges against her, and the court determined that the prosecutors did not provide evidence.

Her husband, Gary, tearfully embraced his wife after her release.

Though the court released her back to the United States, legal proceedings are not completely over, Gary Maldonado said. But his wife's attorney in Mexico will take care of them in her absence.

Opinion: Shakedown 'justice' in Mexico

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 were 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 the illegal substance allegedly recovered from under Maldonado's seat would not have fit in her purse, Benitez said.

Big relief

Her attorneys also presented documents that show that she and her husband 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 didn't make their case in court. The soldiers were scheduled to appear Wednesday but didn't show.

Opinion: Americans still captive in global power games

Official: She was framed

Mexican authorities arrested Maldonado, a U.S. citizen, 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.

Yanira Maldonado does not necessarily think she was directly targeted. "Someone smuggled those in there, and I probably sat in the wrong seat," she said.

Nonetheless, she called on those who arrested her to "repent," find "respectable work" and stop making people suffer.

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, Mexico.

Tearful pleas

In an interview Wednesday with CNN, Maldonado, a Mormon, said she turned 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 drew widespread media attention and caught the attention of U.S. officials.

U.S. Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Arizona, said he had spoken about the case with the U.S. ambassador to Mexico and Mexico's ambassador in Washington.

State Department officials said consular officials met with Maldonado on Wednesday and May 24.

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.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
October 28, 2014 -- Updated 1443 GMT (2243 HKT)
A captured fighter tells CNN's Ivan Watson: "They gave us drugs... that made you go to battle."
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 1331 GMT (2131 HKT)
A terminally ill woman who plans to take her own life checks off the last item.
October 30, 2014 -- Updated 2340 GMT (0740 HKT)
In a plot straight out of Hollywood, federal agents gain access to a suspected Triad boss' Vegas hotel room by pretending to fix the Internet connection.
October 31, 2014 -- Updated 0434 GMT (1234 HKT)
Was it only black and Latino men who harassed a woman in NYC? The filmmaker has found himself in a race controversy.
October 31, 2014 -- Updated 0317 GMT (1117 HKT)
The history of human rights often overlooks the struggles of gay people. This must change.
October 30, 2014 -- Updated 0115 GMT (0915 HKT)
Armed with Kalashnikovs and chanting for the dead comrades, women are among ISIS' most feared enemies. They are fighting for their families -- and now they are getting U.S. help.
October 28, 2014 -- Updated 1246 GMT (2046 HKT)
Lere Mgayiya put his best foot forward and set up a shoe-shine firm after his career plans fell flat.
October 30, 2014 -- Updated 0528 GMT (1328 HKT)
One Chinese drone manufacturer wants to take away the warmongering stigma of "drones."
October 30, 2014 -- Updated 0312 GMT (1112 HKT)
Sketcher Luis Simoes is traveling the world -- slowly. And he's packed his sketchbook.
October 28, 2014 -- Updated 2043 GMT (0443 HKT)
European states help North Korea's brutal treatment of its people by allowing luxury goods like cars and cognacs to evade sanctions, two experts say.
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 0345 GMT (1145 HKT)
Chinese leaders want less odd architecture built in the country.
October 30, 2014 -- Updated 1106 GMT (1906 HKT)
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT