Marine Jailed In Tijuana Returns To US After Judge Orders Release
UPDATE: 9:25 a.m. Nov. 1, 2014: Marine arrives home in Florida
A U.S. Marine veteran is back home in Florida after a Mexican judge ordered his release from jail, where he spent eight months for crossing the border with loaded guns.
Family spokesman Jon Franks told reporters that retired Marine Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi arrived at a South Florida airport about 6 a.m. Saturday. Franks said Tahmooressi was resting with his family at their home suburban Weston, Florida.
Tahmooressi says he crossed the border by mistake in California and had no intention of bringing weapons illegally into Mexico. The judge that ordered his release Friday did not address the weapons charges but freed him because of his mental state.
Franks says Tahmooressi will soon begin treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. Tahmooressi served with the Marines in Afghanistan.
A Mexican judge has ordered the immediate release of a U.S. Marine veteran who has spent the past eight months behind bars in Tijuana for crossing the border with loaded guns.
The judge called for retired Marine Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi to be freed because of his mental state and did not make a determination on the illegal arms charges against the Afghanistan veteran diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, according to a Mexican official who had knowledge of the ruling but was not authorized to give his name.
Tahmooressi has said he took a wrong turn on a freeway that funneled him from San Diego into a Tijuana port of entry with no way to turn back. His detention brought calls for his freedom from U.S. politicians, veterans groups and social media campaigns.
"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," the family said in a statement.
U-T San Diego reported that Tahmooressi was driven Friday night from El Hongo State Penitentiary east of Tecate to the San Ysidro Port of Entry, where he walked across the border about 9 p.m. The newspaper had photos of him getting into a vehicle and boarding a private plane at Brown Field.
He was to be flown from there to South Florida with his mother, Jill Tahmooressi. A foundation run by former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson provided the private jet for the mother and son. Richardson met with Tahmooressi in prison last week.
U.S. Republican and Democratic politicians had held talks with Mexican authorities to urge his release. A U.S. congressional committee also held a public hearing to pressure Mexico to free him.
U.S. Rep. Ed Royce, R-Fullerton, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he was "elated" by the news and that Tahmooressi's PTSD will be treated by specialists in the United States. He had met with Tahmooressi in jail and talked to Mexico's Jesus Murillo Karam about the case.
"As I said after visiting Andrew in the Mexican jail, he needs to come home to the United States to be with his mother, Jill, and the support network of friends I know to be standing by to help him. He is a hero who served his country bravely on the battlefields of Afghanistan, which is why so many Americans have been focused on getting him home," Royce said.
Richardson, who grew up in Mexico and has negotiated on a range of international issues, said he met with Tahmooressi in jail in the border city of Tecate, and he had talked to Mexican officials to urge them to release Tahmooressi on humanitarian grounds.
"I respect Mexico's judicial process, and I am pleased that Andrew was released today and will return home to his family," Richardson in a statement.
U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., also applauded his release.
"As a mother, my heart is with Jill Tahmooressi tonight, and I can only imagine the many emotions she must be experiencing, namely the relief in knowing her son is coming home and that they will soon be reunited without prison bars, without handlers and without unnecessary travel," Wasserman Schultz said. "It is my hope that Andrew can transition back to life in the U.S. after this ordeal as soon as possible, including securing the treatment he needs for his post-traumatic stress disorder and being honored for his service to our nation."
Mexican authorities, however, had made clear that they would not be influenced by politics and that the matter was in the hands of its courts.
In Mexico, possession of weapons restricted for use by the Army is a federal crime, and the country has been tightening up its border checks to stop the flow of US weapons that have been used by drug cartels.
His attorney, Fernando Benitez, had pushed for the 26-year-old Florida man to be released because Mexico has no experience in treating combat-related PTSD, even in its own soldiers.
Benitez had argued that Tahmooressi carries loaded guns with him because his weapons, which were bought legally in the U.S., make him feel safer. He added that the veteran is often distracted, which could have contributed to him becoming lost.
Still, Mexican prosecutors maintained Tahmooressi broke the law.
Tahmooressi was carrying in his truck a rifle, shotgun, pistol and hundreds of rounds of ammunition.
After being jailed in Tijuana, Tahmooressi's mother said, he tried to kill himself by cutting his neck with a shard from a light bulb in his cell because the guards and inmates threatened to rape, torture and kill him and he feared she would be in danger.
He was transferred to another prison, where a pastor visited him regularly and the Mexican government says he was under medical observation.