PHOENIX (AP) — A mother of seven from Arizona has a Wednesday court appearance where her family said lawyers will question key witnesses in an attempt to prove she did not smuggle marijuana on a passenger bus.
The arrest of 42-year-old Yanira Maldonado has prompted outrage in the U.S. among politicians and her family members, who say she was set up when her bus was stopped at a military checkpoint last week and authorities found nearly 12 pounds of marijuana under her seat. She was immediately sent to a Mexico prison.
She and her husband, Gary Maldonado, said they were returning from the funeral of her aunt at the time of the arrest. Gary Maldonado says his wife was framed and that authorities originally demanded $5,000 for her release. The husband was initially suspected of smuggling, but he was later released.
Maldonado’s brother-in-law Brandon Klippel said the court hearing Wednesday will consist of testimony from the soldiers at the checkpoint about 90 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border. Maldonado’s lawyer will be allowed to cross-examine the soldiers.
“This is the crux of the prosecution, so today is key,” Klippel said.
He said four witnesses testified Tuesday on behalf of the couple.
The Mexican Embassy in Washington said in a statement Tuesday that Yanira Maldonado’s “rights to a defense counsel and due process are being observed.” The embassy didn’t respond to allegations she was framed.
Maldonado is a naturalized U.S. citizen who was born in Mexico, her family said. She and Gary Maldonado were married one year ago, and Klippel said they celebrated their anniversary while she was jailed.
“You can’t imagine traveling to Mexico and the next thing you know they accuse you of having a block of marijuana under your seat, and you’re going to jail,” Klippel said. “It sounds like something out of a movie.”
A search of court records in Arizona didn’t turn up any drug-related charges against Yanira or Gary Maldonado.
She was taken to prison in Nogales, in the Mexican state of Sonora, after being turned over to federal prosecutors, said Mexico army spokeswoman Denisse Coronado. A federal judge will decide whether Maldonado should face trial, Coronado said.
Patrick Ventrell, acting deputy spokesman for the U.S. State Department in Mexico, confirmed Maldonado’s arrest but referred all questions to her attorney and Mexican authorities.
“We continue to be in contact with appropriate Mexican authorities on the matter, and for further information on the charges, we refer you to the Mexican authorities and Ms. Maldonado’s legal counsel,” he said.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., is “personally monitoring the situation, and he has had multiple conversations with the deputy Mexican ambassador,” his office said in a statement.
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