An Arizona woman held in a Mexico jail for a week on a drug-smuggling charge was freed and traveled back to the U.S. after a court reviewed her case, including key security footage, and dismissed the allegations.
“I’m free. I’m free. I’m free. I was innocent,” said Yanira Maldonado, 42, who walked out of the prison on the outskirts of Nogales, Mexico, and into her husband’s arms late Thursday.
She and her family members could be seen crossing through the Nogales port of entry into Arizona in a small sedan shortly after midnight, The Arizona Republic reports.
Maldonado spoke briefly after her release, thanking U.S. State Department officials, her husband, her lawyers and prison workers who made her stay comfortable.
“Many thanks to everyone, especially my God who let me go free, my family, my children, who with their help, I was able to survive this test,” she says.
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 says in comments aired on KSAZ-TV. “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.
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.
U.S. 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.
Maldonado was arrested by the Mexican military last week after they found nearly 12 lbs. of pot under her seat during a security checkpoint.