Marine jailed in Mexico ‘highly despondent,’ mom says

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(CNN) — A U.S. Marine reservist who has been held in a Mexican prison for more than six months on a weapons charge is “highly despondent” and his mental health has dramatically deteriorated in recent days, his mother said.

Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi is currently in the El Hongo Penitentiary in Tecate, Mexico, where he was transferred after allegations of torture at the prison where he was first incarcerated.

While his family says cell conditions have improved, Tahmooressi’s communication with the outside world has been limited in the last week after the prison phone he was using to talk to friends and family broke, limiting his contact, his mother Jill Tahmooressi told CNN.

Meanwhile, over the last six months his court case has dragged on and been unpredictable, with no certainty or timetable for his release.

“He is lacking confidence that this will end soon and expeditiously,” his mother told CNN in an exclusive phone interview. “All we have ever asked for is an expeditious due process since he is a current Marine under contract until 2016. And the merits of the case surely point to accidental entry.”

Tahmooressi was arrested March 31 at a Tijuana, Mexico, checkpoint after Mexican customs agents found three firearms in his truck, including a .45-caliber pistol, a pump shotgun and an AR-15 rifle.

Mexico’s strict federal gun laws prohibit anyone illegally bringing weapons into the country.

Since his arrest, Tahmooressi has maintained that he took a wrong turn on the California side of the border into Tijuana. His mother told CNN in May that Tahmooressi, who served in Afghanistan, had moved to the San Ysidro, California, area to get treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.

“He has unresolved, or untreated PTSD, and he cannot get the cognitive therapy behavior that veterans of America receive … in a Mexico jail, where there is no such thing,” his mother told CNN. “He’s highly discouraged there is no light at the end of the tunnel.”

Doubts about his story

The day of his arrest, Tahmooreesi spent the day in Mexico hanging out with other Marines. He also rented a hotel in Tijuana where he had spent the previous night, he told CNN in an interview this summer.

That detail has led some to doubt his story, including some in the State Department, who believe instead that he intended to cross into Mexico the day of his arrest, a State Department source told CNN.

Tahmooressi’s mother called any doubt about her son’s story “highly concerning” and said, “There is not one piece of evidence brought forward by the prosecution that would substantiate an intentional entry.”

When asked by CNN, a State Department official did not respond to the question of doubt, but did release a statement.

“We continue to provide extensive consular assistance to Mr. Tahmooressi, and will do so until his case is resolved,” it said. “Consular officers have visited Mr. Tahmooressi 20 times since his arrest on March 31. While we won’t go into detail about our private diplomatic discussions on this case, U.S. officials, including the Secretary, have talked to Mexican officials at the highest levels regarding Mr. Tahmooressi’s case.”

The statement closed by saying, “We would like to point out that the Mexican authorities have been extremely accommodating and willing to engage on this issue.”

Fueling speculation of wrongdoing, Alejandro Gonzalez Guilbot, the director of the Tijuana checkpoint, told Mexican media in June that border agents gave Tahmooressi a chance to surrender his weapons and return to the United States without incident.

“Never, and I want to say this categorically, never did he say that he had made a mistake,” Gonzalez was quoted as saying. “He never said, ‘I got lost.’ He never said, ‘I am a Marine.’ ”

Tahmooressi told CNN in a phone interview from jail this summer that Gonzalez’s statement is “a lie” and added, “That’s not true at all. They never told me anything of that sort.”

Tahmooressi said the Spanish translator provided to him at the border added to the confusion.

“After I had got off the phone with 911 and I felt like there was no one there to help me, I even told them, I said, ‘You can take my guns, take my truck and take all my possessions. Just let me go back to America.’ And they shook their head no in frustration.”

Admittedly, Tahmooressi had traveled into Mexico several times before his arrest, but only on foot, according to his mother.

911 tape backs story?

In his latest evidentiary hearing, Tahmooressi’s third official appearance before the judge, his defense submitted surveillance video that “coincided with Andrew’s truthful and forthcoming statement of accidental entry,” defense attorney Fernando Benitez told CNN.

The video, which has not been made public, is said to show Tahmooressi hesitate and “appear lost” in his car at the border before driving up to the port of entry, his attorney said.

The night of the incident, Tahmooressi called 911 to request assistance because he had accidentally crossed into Mexico. An operator can be heard telling the Marine that there was nothing that the U.S. could do since he was already on Mexican soil.

“That 911 tape has not even yet made it to the hands of the judge,” his mother told CNN.

Part of what’s complicated things for Tahmooressi is the drama surrounding his defense. The first two attorneys hired by the family were fired, one after trying to coach Tahmooressi into lying about prior visits to Mexico, his mother told CNN.

There were also “missed opportunities,” something Benitez, his current defense attorney, said is one of the reasons the Marine is still in Mexican custody.

“For anybody being involved in a criminal case in Mexico … those first 96 hours are crucial,” Benitez told CNN in a July interview. “A lot can be done, and releases can and are obtained regularly, but you have to aggressively address a defensive strategy.”

Now, Benitez says, his client is at the mercy of the Mexican judicial system, and there is no timetable for his release.

Celebrity takes up cause

Over the last few months, there has been a groundswell of support for the jailed Marine from a wide range of people. Not all of them have the Tahmooressi family’s backing. One rogue supporter has gone so far as to start an online petition for people to help her shut down ports of entry in the Southwest until Tahmooressi is released.

TV talk show host and mental health advocate Montel Williams does have the Tahmooressis’ support and is working closely with the family to secure the Marine’s release.

A retired U.S. Navy lieutenant commander, Williams has written letters to Mexico’s president and others, calling for an end to the incarceration, citing concerns for Tahmooressi’s declining mental health.

“Yes he broke the law, but he didn’t have the capability mentally at the time,” Williams told CNN. “It’s very easy for you to make one wrong turn. He knows he made a mistake.”

As for those who don’t believe Tahmooressi, Williams said, “How about those who say that, you have a right to say it because he spent two tours in Afghanistan protecting your Constitution, which gives you the right to say anything you want.”

Pushing back tears, he continues, “All I’m saying is, Why don’t we look at this a little differently. He’s a sick young man, he’s an American. He paid the price for us! He’s this way because of us! Bring him home!”

Williams is among a list of people expected to testify at an October 1 hearing on Tahmooressi chaired by Congressman Ed Royce, head of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

Just as support for Tahmooressi’s release has grown, so has criticism of President Barack Obama for his inaction on the case. Congressman Matt Salmon of Arizona said he urged Vice President Joe Biden to ask Obama to request Tahmooressi’s release during a June meeting with Mexico’s president.

The president never brought it up, Salmon said.

On the Mexican side of the border, high level meetings regarding Tahmooressi are also taking place, according to a source in Mexico’s attorney general’s office.

Within the last week, senior Mexican administration officials and others have met to discuss Tahmooressi’s mental health and whether his condition could be cause for his release, the source told CNN.

Ultimately, the decision of what to do with Tahmooressi is in the hands of the district judge hearing the evidence.

If convicted, Tahmooressi is facing up to 21 years in prison. His next court hearing is September 29.

CNN’s Stephanie Gallman contributed to this report.

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13 comments

  • alexgrey

    That marine is a criminal. You have to be beyond stupid to cross into Mexico with 3 loaded guns. Save your sympathy for the Americans being killed by our police officers.

  • Bob

    Look for a Press drumbeat and a lot of ready-for-print “news” dispatches, ‘long about October.
    This is an easy one to keep in the news and exploit by timing, speeches, and the Press.

  • Michael Hutchinson

    I pray for the quick and safe return of Andrew Tahmooressi and for the horrible anxiety to end for his mother,Jill Tahmooressi. May God grant traveling mercies to Andrew Tahmooressi, his mother,Jill Tahmooressi and President Barack Obama.As well as their salvation through The Lord Jesus Christ.Is there a petition to secure. Andrew Tahmooressi’s release? P.S. I have noticed how this story is no longer on the news except on Fox News . Thank you Fox News !

  • Wynema Gonzagowski

    What no one seems to remember or take into consideration is that Tahmooressi was ALREADY been constantly BREAKING California State laws by having LOADED weapons INSIDE his vehicle… He had been to Mexico multiple times, walking or not he KNEW where the way INTO Mexico was… He also KNEW he had the loaded weapons in his vehicle along with the ammunition, he CHOSE to enter the “NOTHING TO DECLARE” line where you generally get waved through rather than the lines where he KNEW he would have to talk to someone…
    To say he did not have the “capability mentally” to have broken Mexican law is ridiculous… Saying this because of his PTSD will add to problems people with PTSD already have!!! I mean if he did not have the capacity to know what he was doing he did not have the capacity to have loaded weapons and ammunition in his possession, that is what will be said! I am not an Obama supporter but people quit blaming him…
    I hear people say we should send the military in and rescue our “POW” by force, he is NOT a POW!!! He broke the law in Mexico then HE managed to make things WORSE for HIMSELF by trying to escape from jail… THAT is a lot of the issue right there, he would likely have already been home if he had not tired to escape.
    UGH!!! Are we supposed to go to every country holding Americans prisoner for crimes that they have committed and demand that they all be released because they may have made a mistake when they broke THAT countries laws??? Seriously!!! The United States currently holds between 40 and 60,000 foreign nationals in our jails with close to 70% of them being illegals from Mexico and I am willing to bet that the majority of these would likely say that their arrest happened because of a mistake… Like I said before Tahmooressi would probably have already been home IF he had not compounded his own problems with an escape attempt… Generally honest people do not try to run away.

  • Kane Virgil

    This moron not only crossed the border several times [that day!] he did so at least once with loaded weapons. He then tried to escape two times after he was arrested. Now he’s in a prison cell being treated better than 99% of Mexican prisoners. A foreign national who did the same; bringing loaded weapons into the United States and trying to escape federal custody two times, would be looking at serious jail time in a fed penitentiary.

    • Maria

      I completely agree. Moron is the correct adjective to use in this case. How many thousands of times have you watched the news read yahoo or google or a magazine explaining the vast problem Mexico is facing with their drug wars? It is no secret that tgeir government has stringently cracked down on the illegal entry of firearms. You have to be a complete idiot living in a bubble not to know this and he knew better he was a marine. Could ge have taken a wrong turn by accident? Ver possinle however I lived in Me ico and I know about the warning signs at all checkpoints about bringing in firearms they are everywhere. Also he is not mental he has ptsd which is trestable with therapy. If his family was so concerned about his welfare why didnt they intervene and try to take the weapons from him? Now they want to make a big deal that he is in jail and doesnt get phone calls. Give me a damn break he drove out of US into a cointry that is under complete chaos and drove his truck with three liaded weapons not to mention the ammo he also brought along. Also when he called 911 his call wasnt recorded as someone frantic about realizing he made a mistake. Now everyone is bringing up he is a war hero protected our US country and he needs to be freed. First of all he volunteered to sign up for tge military. Second he is an American military official not Mexican which holds no weight out of US at all. To me this is just another case of an American who thought he could go and do whatever he wanted and that the gov would just stop everything to run to his defense. Too bad so sad but it doesnt work that way. You do the crime you do the time. Our government does not have the yime to run to the defense of every stupid person who decides to throw caution to the wind and risk getting caught. I do feel bad for the family but once uou leave the US you must act responsibly and obey the laws of the place to which you are traveling to. You cant think that because you are American hou should get a break. He needs to learn a lesson. I do not believe he accidentally drove across the border with loaded weapons too far fetched. He better be glad he is in Mexico and not some parts of Asia as some Asian countries gave the death penalty for such crimes.

  • Wynema Gonzagowski

    ACTUALLY the US supplied Mexico with guns in a covert program known now to be “fast and furious” which sold guns to Mexicans hoping to trace them to major drug cartels etc… This program sold weapons to literally hundreds of people one example being Uriel Patino, who bought 723 guns during the operation…

    • alejandro

      Actually, the US soldiers those guns to drug cartels, not some random guy in the middle of a market. The US is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Mexicans, even Americans like a border patrol agent were killed by guns part of FAF. Andrew Tahmorenoodle was obviously trying to smuggle weapons. What if he shot and killed a Mexican? Would people still be begging for a pass? Of course you would. America loses its moral integrity day by day. And before you say I have no right to speak because of my ethnicity, I am also a Marine, stationed in San Diego, and no Damn well there is no way for him to accidentally go into Mexico.

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