Lawyer for Marine jailed in Mexico expresses confidence

Lawyer for Marine jailed in Mexico believes he is close to gaining his client's release

The lawyer for a U.S. Marine held in a Mexican prison since April 1 on weapons charges said Wednesday that, after three evidentiary hearings, he was optimistic that he was close to a ruling that could ultimately free his client.

"Although the trial is ongoing and there's evidence still pending, we feel optimistic and close to a favorable intermediate ruling," Fernando Benitez, attorney for Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi, said in a series of Twitter messages.

(An intermediate ruling, Benitez said, could mean the judge would declare a mistrial or rule out certain evidence that could collapse the prosecution's case.)

Benitez spent Tuesday in an eight-hour hearing before a federal judge in Tijuana in which video from 18 surveillance cameras was shown from the night that his client was detained and then arrested.

Benitez argues that his client's rights were violated by Mexican customs agents who arrested him at the San Ysidro border crossing.

A forensic photo and video report will be submitted to the court on Sept. 29, Benitez said, that will prove a central part of Tahmooressi's defense: that he mistakenly drove into Mexico after missing the last turn to remain in the United States.

Tahmooressi had three weapons and several hundred rounds of ammunition in his pickup truck when he drove into Mexico. In a 911 call after being detained, he told the operator that he had mistakenly driven across the border.

Reporters and members of the public were not allowed to attend Tuesday's hearing. Mexican prosecutors have declined to discuss the case.

The 25-year-old reservist, a veteran of two deployments to Afghanistan, remains held without bail in a prison outside Tecate in the Baja California state. Benitez told Greta Van Susteren of Fox News that it was not necessary for Tahmooressi to attend the hearing because he was not set to testify.

Benitez argues that the customs agents who arrested Tahmooressi violated Mexican procedure by not providing him with a translator and not getting a judge's approval before searching his truck. There are also irregularities with the paperwork documenting the arrest, he said.

"It has now become clear that [Tahmooressi] has told the truth," Benitez said via Twitter. "And that Mexican customs held him for almost 8 hours with no attorney nor translator."

The surveillance videos, he said, show that Tahmooressi was cooperative with the customs agents. "He could have very well run away," Benitez told Van Susteren.

Tahmooressi had recently moved to San Diego to receive treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.

Under the Mexican legal system, a judge holds multiple hearings to hear all sides of the case before deciding, without an American-style trial by jury, whether the defendant is guilty. If convicted, Tahmooressi could face up to 21 years in prison.

A psychiatrist has been retained to provide a report to the judge about Tahmooressi's PTSD. Benitez argues that the Mexican legal system is not equipped to give his client proper care.

Twitter: @LATsandiego

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