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Arizona Woman, Held in Pot Seizure in Mexico, Is Freed

The Arizona woman arrested on suspicion of possessing and transporting marijuana in Mexico was released from jail around 10 p.m. on Thursday, after a judge ruled that there was not enough evidence to begin a trial.

“I want to say thank you, first to God, because I’m free now and he sent good people my way and I’m very grateful that I’m free,” said the woman, Yanira Maldonado. Mexican authorities accused her of smuggling 12 pounds of marijuana under her bus seat.

She spoke to reporters as she walked down the steps outside the jail in Nogales, Mexico, where she had been detained since May 22.

Had the trial proceeded, Maldonado, 42, could have faced a minimum sentence of 10 years.

Maldonado, a Mormon and mother of seven, had traveled from her home in Goodyear, Ariz., to Mexico earlier this month to attend an aunt’s funeral. She said she yelled with excitement when police told her she was being released.

As she stepped out of the jail, gave her husband a big hug that finally brought to an end a period of more than a week that she has characterized as “a nightmare.”

The key piece of evidence in the case was video surveillance from the bus station in Los Mochis, Sinaloa, where Maldonado and her husband, Gary Maldonado, had boarded.

Maldonado’s lawyer, Francisco Benitez, told CNN that the video was crucial evidence in the case. He said the video shows Maldonado carrying only a purse, two blankets and two bottles of water,.

Benitez argued that nothing the Maldonados were carrying could hold the amount of marijuana Yanira Maldonado was accused of smuggling.

The military officers who arrested Maldonado at a military checkpoint near the city of Hermosillo did not appear in court on Wednesday. They had been scheduled to take the stand for cross-examination by her attorneys.

Even though Maldonado has been released, her case is still pending, said Dustin Jones, an American attorney who has provided legal counsel for the Maldonados and has acted as an official interpreter and translator in the court for Gary Maldonado, who does not speak Spanish. This week’s hearings were meant to determine whether there was enough evidence for a trial.

“This hearing was to determine whether they could even keep her incarcerated,” Jones said. “The prosecution has the right to appeal this judge’s decision to let her go, and to my understanding, they’re always appealed.”

Benitez will handle the rest of the case and Maldonado will not be required to remain in Mexico.

The case drew international attention with her supporters in the United States taking to social media to proclaim Maldonado’s innocence. Tweets called the arrest a set-up and alluded to corrupt Mexican officials.

Gary Maldonado claims that he was pressed to offer a $5,000 bribe in exchange for his wife’s freedom.

“It’s about getting money here,” Gary Maldonado told CNN. “From what I hear, that’s a regular occurrence here.”

A Facebook group dedicated to updating the public on Yanira Maldonado’s plight garnered a following of about 18,000 people.

The U. S. State Department and three Arizona legislators were following the case closely.

Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona tweeted out the news of Maldonado’s release Thursday night

Yanira Maldonado and her family have returned to Arizona.

“I’m happy to be free and it’s wonderful to have my liberty,” Maldonado said at a press conference after crossing into the U.S.