Arizona Mom Accused of Smuggling Drugs Freed From Mexican Jail

The Slatest
Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
May 31 2013 12:50 PM

Arizona Mom Freed From Mexican Jail After Drug-Smuggling Allegations Fall Apart

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U.S. Border Patrol ranch liaison John "Cody" Jackson, right, and cattle rancher Dan Bell ride through Bell's ZZ Cattle Ranch at the U.S.-Mexico border on March 8, 2013, in Nogales, Ariz.

Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

It probably felt like the longest week ever for Yanira Maldonado, an Arizona woman who was finally released late Thursday after being held for nine days in jail in Nogales, Mexico. The 42-year-old mother of seven was accused of smuggling drugs after Mexican officials found nearly 12 pounds of marijuana stashed underneath her seat on a bus traveling from Mexico to Phoenix last week. The Associated Press does a great job of recapping the details:

Jennifer Lai Jennifer Lai

Jennifer Lai is an associate editor at Slate.

The bus passed through at least two checkpoints on the way to the border without incident. In the town of Querobabi in the border state of Sonora, all the passengers were ordered off the bus and a soldier searched the interior as they waited. The soldier exited and told his superiors that packets of drugs had been found under seat 39, Yanira Maldonado's, and another seat, number 42. Her husband was in seat 40.
Gary Maldonado said a man sitting behind them on the bus fled during the inspection. He said the man might have been the true owner of the drugs.
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Allegations against Maldonado, who was traveling in Mexico with her husband for her aunt's funeral, have been dropped thanks, in large part, to security footage that showed the couple boarding with "only blankets, bottles of water and her purse in hand." Quite simply, nothing the couple was carrying could have hidden the amount of marijuana that Maldonado was accused of smuggling; the bus seat-size packages of marijuana wouldn't even have fit into her purse.

Witness testimony also helped prove Maldonado's innocence, and just hours after the surveillance video was released, Maldonado was freed. Even if security footage and witness testimony hadn't been available, Maldonado would still have had a solid case for innocence. Maldonado's lawyer, Jose Francisco Benitez Paz, insists that the way the drugs were smuggled—which included packets of drugs attached to the seat bottoms with metal hooks—was pretty sophisticated and would have been a task impossible for a passenger.

Either way, something is definitely fishy. A Mexican state official told CNN it appears that Maldonado was framed. Meanwhile, Maldonado's husband alleges that Mexican authorities originally demanded a $5,000 bribe for his wife's release.

Maldonado, a naturalized U.S. citizen who was born in Mexico, is no longer a suspect in the case. She has said the couple will likely avoid future trips to Mexico.