Mexican judge to decide by Friday on drug smuggling charges for U.S. mom

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NOGALES, Mexico (CNN) — A Mexican judge must decide by Friday whether there’s enough evidence to charge an American woman with drug trafficking.

Yanira Maldonado, a Mormon mother of seven, has been in a jail for more than a week. Authorities accuse her of trying to smuggle 12 pounds of marijuana under a bus seat. She has maintained her innocence

Under Mexican law, the federal judge who has been reviewing the case has until Friday to charge Maldonado formally, or else he must release her, said her attorney, Francisco Benitez.

On Thursday, Benitez said he was planning to introduce a crucial piece of evidence for the defense: security camera footage showing Maldonado and her husband boarding a bus in Mexico.

Benitez said he hadn’t yet seen the video, but accounts from witnesses and Maldonado give him a clear idea of what it will show: the American couple boarding the bus, carrying nothing other than a purse and a blanket.

This footage suggests that someone else brought the marijuana aboard the bus, the lawyer said.

The packages of marijuana allegedly recovered from under Maldonado’s seat would not have fit in her purse, Benitez said.

Maldonado’s attorneys will also present documents that show that she and her husband, Gary, have no criminal records in the United States, Benitez said.

The Mexican military officials who arrested Maldonado haven’t made their case yet in court.

The soldiers were scheduled to appear Wednesday but didn’t show.

Maldonado’s family denies the charges and are optimistic the case against her is crumbling.

Mexican authorities arrested Maldonado on May 22 as she and her husband were on their way back to Arizona.

Gary Maldonado said he believes Mexican soldiers at the checkpoint wanted a bribe.

A Mexican state official also told CNN it appears that Maldonado was framed.

A regional office of Mexico’s defense ministry said troops conducting a routine investigation stopped the bus Maldonado was riding in and found 12.5 pounds (5.7 kilograms) of a substance that appeared to be marijuana under her seat.

Troops turned the case over to the Mexican attorney general’s office, the defense ministry said. Maldonado is being housed in a women’s prison in Nogales while authorities decide her fate.

In an interview Wednesday with CNN, Maldonado said she has been turning to Scripture to survive the ordeal.

“Reading the Scriptures, reading the Book of Mormon, praying, fasting,” Maldonado said. “And all the support that I’ve been getting from my family, my husband, my children and everybody out there reaching out to help.”

State Department officials said consular officials met with Maldonado last Friday and Wednesday, and are in regular contact by phone.

U.S. diplomats are doing the same things they usually would when a U.S. citizen is arrested in a foreign country, but maybe to a higher degree because of the high-profile nature of the case, a senior administration official said.

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