Tijuana Judge Frees Ailing U.S. Man, 81

TIMES STAFF WRITER

After spending three weeks in a Tijuana prison on a drug possession charge, an 81-year-old Oxnard man suffering from prostate cancer was told Wednesday by Mexican authorities that he was free to go.

"I'm feeling real good," said George Murl, who was immediately transferred to a San Diego hospital. "I just want to get a checkup. I'm exhausted, I'm tired. I feel very good to be back in the United States."

Judge Geraldo Eduardo Garcia Anzures sentenced Murl on Wednesday afternoon to five years in prison for drug possession, but then commuted the sentence, citing Murl's failing health.

Murl was arrested May 24 after allegedly purchasing 600 pills of diazepam, the generic name for Valium. He regularly crossed the border for cut-rate drugs to relieve his muscle spasms, according to relatives.

While in custody, Murl refused to eat and rejected some treatment, causing his family and others to organize a campaign to win his release. Anzures himself had visited Murl during brief hospitalizations for the inmate, and had done so Wednesday before rendering his decision.

A medical report by Dr. Leopoldo Ackel at Tijuana General Hospital said Murl could die if he did not receive proper medical attention, according to Murl's lawyer, Francisco Bazan.

An hour after the judge made his ruling, a representative and an interpreter appeared at the hospital to read the decision to Murl, said Dave Walden, a San Diego pastor who has comforted Murl while in custody.

"You're free to go home," Murl was told.

Shortly afterward, Walden called Murl's ex-wife, Rose Burgess, at her Oxnard home with the news.

"We just crossed the border," the pastor told her. "I've got George next to me. We're on our way to the hospital."

Burgess said the family was relieved and elated. Murl's relatives and friends had spent days consulting with attorneys, talking to the media and faxing medical documents to win his release--and perhaps save his life.

"It took a lot of paperwork, a lot of pressure and a lot of worry," Burgess said, "but he's out."

Murl was held two weeks without bail in La Mesa State Penitentiary before being moved to a Tijuana hospital last week, only to be moved back to jail when he refused treatment, and then back to the hospital.

He found what his family called a "guardian angel" in Walden, who visits Americans jailed in Mexico. Walden went as far as to drive from San Diego to North Hills to pick up medical records to hand to the Mexican judge.

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