Mexico frees Marine detained for seven months on weapons charges
U.S. Marine reservist Sgt. Andrew Paul Tahmooressi is enjoying his first day home Saturday in Miami, freed from a seven-month detention in Mexico in a weapons case that he claimed grew merely from his taking a wrong turn.
His jailing drew widespread attention because he and his mother made an emotional plea for his release, echoed by such public figures as former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and television host Montel Williams, both of whom pressured Mexican officials on Tahmooressi's behalf.
The Marine who served in Afghanistan said he was being wrongly prosecuted and was suffering post-traumatic stress disorder.
\"I think he's thrilled,\" family spokesman Jonathan Franks told CNN on Saturday morning.
\"It's setting in. They need a little bit of time to reconnect as a family,\" Franks said.
A big, long hug
Tahmooressi boarded a flight from San Diego late Friday, shortly after his release.
\"It is with an overwhelming and humbling feeling of relief that we confirm that Andrew was released today after spending 214 days in Mexican jail,\" his relatives said in a statement.
It was an emotional reunion with \"big smiles\" and a big, lengthy hug between Tahmooressi and his mother when they saw each other Friday evening.
\"Without question, it was one of the most powerful experiences of my life,\" Franks said, who was present for the mother-son reunion. \"Everybody was very excited.\"
\"These are people who guided by deep faith, and they're grateful. I'm not sure how much more eloquently you can put it,\" Franks said.
Tahmooressi is in good physical condition, Franks said. \"Obviously he hasn't spent a lot of time outside. He hasn't had much access to a gym as he had in his prior life, but he looks great,\" Franks said.
The Marine doesn't bear any \"ill will\" toward Mexico, Franks added.
Making 'the right choice'
Tahmooressi and his mother weren't making public comments Saturday.
\"After a while, he will speak for himself,\" Franks said. \"I think it's going to be several days, some time next week.\"
Richardson said he was among those who pressed for Tahmooressi's release, and he visited the former Marine at Mexico's El Hongo federal prison last week.
\"I think the Mexican judge made the right choice ... because of PTSD, on humanitarian grounds, (that) he should be released,\" Richardson told CNN on Saturday morning.
\"He's a good young man,\" Richardson said. \"He served two tours in Afghanistan. He's suffered enough.\"
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said many U.S. officials and some Congress members worked through the Mexican legal process on behalf of Tahmooressi.
\"We are pleased Mexican judicial authorities ordered Sgt. Tahmooressi released on October 31,\" Psaki said.
Mexican Embassy: Respecting the law
Mexican officials said \"the legal process was carried out in strict accordance with the applicable legal framework and with full respect for the rights and guarantees of the U.S. citizen,\" the Mexican Embassy said in a statement.
\"During the time of his detention, he received medical care and (accommodations) were made for him to receive personal visits,\" the embassy said. \"The Government of Mexico reiterates its commitment to fully respect the rule of law as well as the human rights of all those within its jurisdiction. That includes the right of foreign citizens to consular notification and access, as well as guarantees of due process.\"
Tahmooressi was held on weapons charges after his arrest March 31 at a checkpoint in Tijuana, Mexico.
At the time, Mexican customs agents found three firearms in his truck, including a .45-caliber pistol, a pump shotgun and an AR-15 rifle. Mexico has strict federal laws on bringing weapons into the country.
Since his arrest, Tahmooressi has maintained that he took a wrong turn on the California side of the border and accidentally crossed into Tijuana.
The Mexican court said it found no cause to prosecute him on charges of carrying two firearms used exclusively by the military, possessing cartridges used exclusively by the military and carrying a firearm without a license
It also recommended he be treated for post-traumatic stress disorder.
Some Mexicans' criticism
Some Mexican nationals, however, criticized Tahmooressi and said it was no accident he was caught with guns in Mexico.
Fernando Benitez, an attorney for Tahmooressi, acknowledged how \"in any country there will be some very specific sectors of society that will be a little extreme in their views.\"
\"Mexico's not an exception,\" Benitez told CNN. \"However, most people that really got to know the workings of the case agreed that this young man has to come back home.\"
If the case went to trial, Benitez felt Tahmooressi would have won, the attorney said.
\"You know, it was a complicated case, but it wasn't -- never felt we couldn't win it,\" Benitez said.
On Monday, Benitez will try to reclaim the Marine's truck and weapons, said the lawyer who's based in Tijuana, Mexico.
Mother pleaded for release
In May, his mother said he served with the Marines in Afghanistan, and had moved to the San Ysidro, California, area to get treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.
\"He has unresolved, or untreated PTSD, and he cannot get the cognitive therapy behavior that veterans of America receive ... in a Mexico jail, where there is no such thing,\" Jill Tahmooressi said earlier this year.
Paul Tahmooressi has described a suicide attempt by his son with a shattered light bulb after being punched, slapped, cursed at, deprived of water and food, and shackled to a bed with a four-point restraint.
Conditions improved after media coverage of his plight, he said.
Mexican prison authorities have denied the abuse allegations.