TIJUANA.- On July 9th, after 101 days incarcerated in a Mexican prison, U.S. Marine reservist Andrew Tahmooressi, with his mother Jill and two defense attorneys in tow, finally appeared in court before a Tijuana federal judge. This was his his first evidentiary hearing since crossing the U.S. border on March 31st with his truck laden with a stash of guns and ammo strictly illegal in Mexico. The delay had been caused in part due to the Tahmooressi's multiple changes in legal defense attorneys. But they now appear to be satisfied with their third choice.
No reporters were allowed at the hearing that reportedly lasted eight hours (prolonged by the fact that all testimony had to be translated), and there has been no official announcement regarding its outcome other than an informal press conference held at the end of the day by Tahmooressi's attorney and mother.
All non-essential people remained camped-out on the sidewalk outside the courthouse during the day, including reporters and members of Tahmooressi's support team. According to an article by Zeta Tijuana, Tahmooressi's supporters included Len Newcomb, a California based private investigator, who presumably was hired by the family to investigate this case; Antonio Perry, an ex-military who was there in the capacity of bodyguard; and Pastor Luis Benito.
After many hours of waiting while the evidentiary hearing was proceeding, the bodyguard, private investigator, and pastor went to a nearby restaurant. According to Zeta, Private Investigator Newcomb and bodyguard Perry then came out of the restaurant visibly intoxicated. Pastor Benito had approached Zeta reporter Ines Garcia and was talking with her when Newcomb came up to the reporter and assaulted her "to the point of noticeably smacking her in the head as well as yanking her arm." Many reporters outside the courthouse witnessed the alleged assault and caught it on tape and in photos.
According to the same article by Zeta, the Mexican Police showed up on site and Newcomb allegedly escaped the scene by car in an inebriated state. The bodyguard, Antonio Perry, was detained and appeared before a judge. Mexican Immigration Authorities are reportedly looking into whether Len Newcomb legally obtained permits to work in Mexico as a private investigator.
The violent anti-Mexico undertones that this case has elicited over the past three months have been jarringly apparent and have been evidenced by multiple threats from U.S. elected officials and Tahmooressi supporters, who have threatened to invade the country, break Andrew out of jail, and blockade the border. These supporters have also allegedly harassed consulate workers and other government agencies by telephone over the past several months.
Although it was Jill Tahmooressi, herself, who first orchestrated the high-octane media blitz to free her son from prison, the official Tahmooressi support page now has taken to soft-pedaling its activism. In light of this new strategy, it has now on multiple occasions posted requests urging nonviolence, presumably in response to complaints from affected parties, and as it has become evident that these threats could jeopardize the marine reservist's case and hopes for an early release.
It is bizarre, therefore, that his own support team was unable to heed these requests for restraint. Or perhaps this alleged assault outside the courthouse steps is but another punch line in a story that has been fraught from the beginning with over-the-top accusations, distortions and missteps.
What is now clear is that the ex-marine's demand for immediate release, expressed repeatedly by his mother through the international media, is not going to happen. He will instead submit to the normal due process of reviewing and challenging the evidence against him like any other civilian -- and present his own exculpatory or mitigating evidence in support of his claim that he entered Mexico by accident due to poor signage at the border and confusion caused by PTSD brought on by his two tours of duty in Afghanistan.
His next hearing is set for early August.
His attorney, Fernando Benítez Alvarez, has stated previously in interviews that the court has prosecutorial discretion to release Tahmooressi if it is unable to prove "dolo" -- a Spanish word that may include fraud, deceit, or bad intent. It is the theory of the defense attorney that mere negligence is insufficient to convict Tahmooressi. Something more is needed: "proof" is needed that Tahmooressi crossed into Mexico that day, and again in the evening, with a bad motive.
This novel theory by Benitez is at odds, however, with traditional analyses of Mexican law. According to the Mexican Embassy's Press and Public Affairs Minister, Ariel Moutsatsos Morales Basilio, a Mexican prosecutor has no discretion whatsoever in dismissing the case, once it has been determined a crime has been committed. There is no denying the fact that Andrew violated the law by bringing his guns and ammo into Mexico.
Further, according to the Mexican Embassy's fact sheet on Tahmooressi's case, " In Mexico, as in the United States, ignorance of the law, error, or failure to understand the consequences of violating the law do not exempt individuals from responsibility, regardless of intention."
This leaves Tahmooressi with the defense of inadvertence that through disorientation, confusion, poor signage, bad lighting, etc., his crossing into Mexico was accidental.
An additional defense is that the case should be struck down due to procedural errors.
In this light, Benitez has indicated that he is looking into why Tahmooressi was detained for so many hours at the border instead of being turned over immediately to the prosecutors. He is also looking into errors on the written order to inspect his vehicle while in customs. Via social media, Benitez further claims that these are elements that create a "plausible case for wrongful arrest."
Be that as it may, it is Tahmooressi who must fight the uphill battle and provide plausibility to the scenario that crossing into Tijuana that evening was just an unfortunate accident that could have happened to anybody a simple wrong turn in a truck loaded with guns and ammo.