The family of Yanira Maldonado, who has spent more than a week behind bars in Mexico, says she was locked up for a crime she never committed. NBC's Miguel Almaguer reports.
An Arizona woman remained in a Mexican jail Wednesday accused of smuggling drugs after no decision was reached at a hearing, but her family was cautiously optimistic that she could be freed soon.
Yanira Maldonado, 42, and her husband, Gary, were on a bus home to the Phoenix area from Mexico a week ago after a funeral for Maldonado's aunt when Mexican soldiers staffing a checkpoint stopped the bus in Hermosillo, about 170 miles from the U.S. border.
A lawyer for Maldonado argued Wednesday that the soldiers, who said they recovered two packages of marijuana, had presented inconsistent testimony. The lawyer, Jose Francisco Benitez Paz, told The Associated Press after the hearing that the testimony raised serious doubts about where the drugs had actually been stashed on the bus.
Maldonado, a Mormon mother of seven children, has been held behind bars since last week despite the family's best efforts to free her. They even took the advice of a Mexican lawyer and tried to bribe officials with $5,000 at the beginning of the ordeal, which Gary Maldonado's brother-in-law, Brandon Klippel, described Tuesday as a "nightmare that felt surreal."
Klippel told NBC News by email before the hearing that the soldiers' testimony "was the crux of the prosecution, so today is key."
Maldonado, who hasn't been officially charged, was transferred from a Hermosillo jail to a women's facility in Nogales, but she was doing better emotionally Wednesday, and relatives said they were cautiously optimistic.
"She has her spirits up, and with our faith know we can make it through," Gary Maldonado told NBC station KVOA of Tucson, Ariz.
Maldonado's father, Larry Maldonado — Yanira's father-in-law — said he was confident that "we have a good case.
"If this was the U.S., I believe they would have already let her go. It's a strong case," Larry Maldonado told KVOA. "But we're in Mexico, so I don't know."
A senior U.S. State Department official told NBC News that a Mexican judge was scheduled to review Maldonado's case at a closed hearing Friday. If there's no ruling then, she will be sent to another facility for what could be several more months of jail time.
The family fears what might happen if she is transferred.
"Our greatest fear right now is that our sister will be lost," Klippel told Savannah Guthrie on TODAY Wednesday. "One of the things the attorney said to us right in the beginning is that once you're in the federal prison system (in Mexico), they move you around without keeping good records. In fact, she was lost for the first day in the prison system when this first started."
For now, the Maldonados and their supporters remain the only sources giving details of what happened. In a statement, the Mexican Embassy said it couldn't comment because the case was pending.
"The Government of Mexico is in close communication with the US Government to guarantee Mrs. Maldonado's right to Consular assistance," it said. "Our Embassy in Washington is also in direct contact with Senator Jeff Flake. Mrs Maldonado's rights to a defense counsel and due process are being observed. As the process is ongoing and a preliminary decision by the judge is due soon, no further comments will be made at this time."
Klippel said that on Tuesday, two witnesses from the bus testified that the Maldonados stowed their luggage underneath it and didn't take anything on board with them. Two family members also testified, sharing details about the May 19 funeral that took the Maldonados to Mexico in the first place.
Maldonado, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Mexico who now lives in Goodyear, Ariz., has been receiving help from the State Department and from Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., whose press secretary said he was communicating with Mexican officials and her family.
The family has also been updating a Facebook page in their quest to free Maldonado, which has garnered more than 15,000 supporters.
Gary Maldonado was in Nogales with his wife for the court hearing and spent the morning preparing documents for the case, Klippel said. He said he never saw drugs on their bus.
"I asked him, "Could (the drugs) have been there; would you have seen them?'" Klippel said. "He said that he didn't see anything. They didn't show him any drugs. He doesn't know if they ever existed in the first place. We just know that they had nothing to do with it — whether they were there beforehand or whether they were planted there by somebody else."
Maldonado's relatives were hopeful that Wednesday would be her last day in jail.
"She's not doing well," Klippel said. "Just to get in, you have multiple guards with machine guns with their fingers on the trigger staring you down as you get in there. It smells awful. There's this big mesh window that she sits at, and she just cries, saying, 'I've never done anything illegal in my life.'"
Miguel Almaguer and Catherine Chomiak of NBC News contributed to this report.
Previous reports on this story:
- 'Nightmare' for US woman held in Mexico accused of smuggling drugs
- Family: We fear mom jailed in Mexico 'will be lost'
This story was originally published on Wed May 29, 2013 1:43 PM EDT