Marine returned to Mexican jail to await second hearing on gun charges

A Marine reservist held in Mexico since April 1 on weapons charges was returned to prison Wednesday after a nine-hour hearing in which he proclaimed his innocence.

Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi was returned to El Hongo Prison near Tecate to await a hearing set for Aug. 4. He had been brought to the Tijuana courthouse under heavy guard.


Some of Tahmooressi's supporters had hoped that the judge would allow the Afghanistan combat veteran to be released immediately. After the hearing, Tahmooressi's mother and lawyer expressed confidence that he will eventually be set free.

"He's strong, he's confident," Jill Tahmooressi told reporters. She also thanked the judge for letting her speak to her son.

Tahmooressi's attorney, Fernando Benitez, said his case centers on procedural violations by Mexican officials after they detained Tahmooressi at the San Ysidro border crossing. Also, official paperwork appears to be missing, he said.

Tahmooressi was arrested after crossing the border at San Ysidro with a rifle, shotgun, pistol and hundreds of rounds of ammunition in his pickup truck.

He had recently moved to San Diego to receive treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder at the Veterans Affairs hospital in La Jolla.

Tahmooressi has consistently said he crossed the border by mistake, missing the turnoff to remain in the U.S. That story was challenged by Mexican officials when Tahmooressi's explanation that he had never before visited Mexico proved to be untrue.

Wednesday's hearing was the first time that Tahmooressi was able to tell the judge, Victor Octavio Luna Escobedo, his version of events that led to his arrest. Mexican customs officials were also set to talk to the judge about what happened the night that Tahmooressi was arrested.

An earlier hearing was canceled after Tahmooressi fired his attorney.

Benitez has cautioned him and his mother that the process could take months as multiple hearings are held. The media was not allowed to attend Wednesday's hearing.

If convicted, Benitez said, Tahmooressi could face up to 10 years in prison.

Some 74 members of the U.S. Congress have called on the Obama administration to work with Mexican authorities to gain Tahmooressi's release. Two wrote this week to the judge, urging him to free Tahmooressi and not punish him for having made "a simple mistake at the border."

Mexican officials, however, have emphasized that while their judicial system is different from the U.S. system, it shares one key characteristic: Cases are not decided by political pressure.

They have also noted that ignorance of the law is no excuse for breaking it, and that there are signs at the border warning visitors that bringing weapons into Mexico is a crime.

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