NOGALES, Mexico — An Arizona woman held in a Mexican jail for a week after federal police said they found 12 pounds of marijuana under her bus seat was freed and returned to the US after a court reviewed her case, including key security footage, and dismissed the allegations.
Yanira Maldonado, 42, walked out of the prison on the outskirts of Nogales, Mexico, and into her husband’s arms late Thursday and crossed through the Nogales port of entry into Arizona. After spending the night in a hotel, she drove away with a police escort at midmorning on Friday and was expected to return to her Phoenix-area home to be reunited with her children.
Maldonado spoke briefly after her release, thanking State Department officials, her husband, her lawyers, and prison workers who made her stay comfortable.
Maldonado also said at a news conference later that she still loves Mexico, and the experience will not stop her from returning in the future to visit family there.
‘‘It’s not Mexico’s fault. It’s a few people who did this to me and probably other people, who knows?’’ Maldonado said. ‘‘I’m still going to go back.’’
The family’s lawyer in Nogales, Jose Francisco Benitez Paz, said a judge determined Thursday that Maldonado was no longer a suspect, and all allegations against her were dropped. Prosecutors are appealing the ruling, but Benitez said that is routine and Maldonado will not have to return to testify.
Maldonado’s release came hours after court officials reviewed security footage that showed the couple boarding a commercial bus traveling from Mexico to Phoenix with only blankets, bottles of water, and her purse in hand.
US politicians portrayed her as a victim of a corrupt judicial system and demanded her release, with Arizona congressmen saying they were working closely with Mexican authorities.
The judge had until late Friday to decide whether to free Maldonado or send her to another prison in Mexico while state officials built their case.
Maldonado was arrested by the Mexican military last week after they found nearly 12 pounds of pot under her seat during a security checkpoint.
Benitez noted it was a fairly sophisticated smuggling effort that included packets of drugs attached to the seat bottoms with metal hooks — a task that would have been impossible for a passenger.
Maldonado’s husband, Gary, said he originally was arrested after the drugs was found under his wife’s bus seat. But after Yanira Maldonado begged the soldiers to allow her to come along to serve as a translator, the military officials decided to release him and arrest her instead. Gary Maldonado alleges authorities initially demanded $5,000 for his wife’s release, but the bribe fell through.