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'I'm free': Arizona mom returns to US after drug allegations dropped in Mexico

Yanira Maldonado, who was charged with smuggling drugs in Mexico, is reuniting with her family after a week in jail. She was released shortly before midnight. NBC's Miguel Almaguer reports.

Yanira Maldonado, the Arizona mother freed after nine days in a Mexican jail on a mistaken drug charge, said Friday that she got through the ordeal by reading scripture with other inmates and thinking of her family.

Beaming after her release, she told reporters: “I’m free. I’m free. I’m free. I was innocent.”

Maldonado, 42, was in Mexico with her husband for a funeral and was detained May 22 after soldiers found 12 pounds of marijuana taped under her seat on a bus that she was taking back to the United States.

She was released late Thursday after court officials reviewed security footage that showed the couple boarding the bus carrying only blankets, bottles of water and her purse.

Maldonado walked out of the jail and into the arms of her husband, Gary, and was driven back to the United States. She said that she would return to Mexico, but not for some time.

She described her time in jail as “very sad” but said she had been treated respectfully. Maldonado, a Mormon, said that she found a copy of the Book of Mormon in jail and read it and prayed with the other inmates.

“My faith and my family kept me going,” she said.

Maldonado, a mother of seven, was born in Mexico and is a naturalized American citizen. She stressed to reporters at a press conference in Nogales, Ariz., that the mistake was the fault of “a few people,” not the country. With a shrug, she said that she had just sat in the wrong seat.

“I love Mexico. My family is still there,” she said. “Mexico is a beautiful country. Please don’t take it wrong.”

She said that she needed to rest and was looking forward to seeing her children: “They can’t wait to see me.”

Maldonado and her family had proclaimed her innocence ahead of her release.

“I just want to be back home right now with my family, my kids and my husband,’’ Maldonado told Miguel Almaguer in an interview that aired Thursday morning on TODAY.

"I wanted to find a way out, and I’m telling them I’m innocent, I’m innocent. I keep saying what happened, and I’m still here, so I just have faith in the Lord.”

As Arizona mom of seven Yanira Maldonado's court hearing on drug smuggling charges begins in Nogales, Mexico, she is speaking out for the first time, saying her "spirit is good," but she just wants "to go home." NBC's Miguel Almaguer reports.

Maldonado and her husband were married a year ago. She said before her release that she believed she may have been set up at the military checkpoint, where soldiers initially accused her husband of smuggling the marijuana before detaining her instead.

Soldiers staffing a checkpoint stopped the bus in Hermosillo, about 170 miles from the U.S. border.

NBC News' Alastair Jamieson contributed to this report.