Attorneys say decision on Marine in Mexican jail could take months
By ROBIN ABCARIAN AND TONY PERRY | Los Angeles Times | Published: August 5, 2014
Amid predictions that a decision in the high-profile case is months away, a second evidentiary hearing was held Monday in Tijuana for a U.S. Marine jailed in Mexico since April 1 on weapons charges.
Both the defense attorney for Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi and the attorney representing Mexican officials who arrested him at the border told reporters that it will be months before the judge makes a decision.
Tahmooressi’s attorney, Fernando Benitez, told reporters that the case would last until November. The attorney for the customs officials, Javier Lopez, estimated it will be even longer: six to eight months.
Reporters were not allowed inside the courtroom of Judge Victor Octavio Luna Escobedo.
Under Mexican law, the judge will decide whether Tahmooressi is guilty after holding several hearings. Weapons charges like those facing Tahmooressi can bring a sentence of seven to 14 years, his attorney said. Sentencing rules do not provide for leniency, he said.
"We need to go for broke in this case," Benitez said. "We need to prove innocence."
Monday’s hearing allowed Tahmooressi’s attorney to question the Mexican officials who arrested Tahmooressi after he drove across the border with a rifle, shotgun, pistol and hundreds of rounds of ammunition in his pickup truck.
Part of Tahmooressi’s defense is that his rights were violated when officials did not follow procedures under Mexican law, including not providing him with a translator and not promptly notifying the U.S. Consulate.
"The officers believe — and this is what really strikes me — they believe that it’s OK to hold somebody for eight hours under arrest, while they finish up their customs [paper]work," Benitez said. "And it’s not OK.
"They should have … delivered him before the federal prosecutor immediately after discovering the weapons and making the arrest."
But the Mexican officials’ attorney told reporters that the standard protocol was strictly followed the night that Tahmooressi was detained and then arrested.
After the hearing, Tahmooressi, 26, was returned to a federal prison outside Tecate where he is being held without bail in a one-man cell.
His mother, Jill Tahmooressi, who traveled to Tijuana from her home in Florida for the hearing, said that her son has moments of despondency but is trying to remain confident that he will be released.
Tahmooressi, who did two deployments in Afghanistan and is now in the reserves, had moved to San Diego to receive treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder at the Veterans Affairs hospital in La Jolla.
He has consistently said he crossed the border the night of March 31 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.
Mexican officials have said that ignorance of the law against bringing weapons into Mexico is not an excuse.
But Benitez, talking to reporters, disagreed.
"As far as criminal law, this particular crime requires a criminal intent to be present," he said. "This is not a crime that can be committed accidentally. Possession of unauthorized weapons in Mexico needs criminal intent to be considered a crime."
Benitez said no date was set for the next hearing. One issue is likely to be a videotape of the arrest that the judge has ordered brought to court, he said. He said he plans a vigorous case based on the assertion that the search of Tahmooressi's truck was illegal.
"I'm gonna run wild with it," he said.