Arizona Mom Yanira Maldonado Out of Mexico Prison; Drug Allegations Dropped

By: Erika Angulo and Gil Aegerter, NBC News
By: Erika Angulo and Gil Aegerter, NBC News

Yanira Maldonado, the Arizona mother held for more than a week in a Mexico jail on suspicion of drug smuggling, was released late Thursday after the case against her was dismissed.

The mother-of-seven, from Goodyear, Arizona, would return immediately to the United States, her lawyer Jose Francisco Benitez Paz said.

Maldonado, 42, had been detained since May 22, when she and her husband were returning to the U.S. from a funeral. Soldiers said they had found 12 pounds of marijuana taped under her seat on a bus.

Her release came hours after court officials reviewed security footage - also seen by NBC - that showed the couple boarding a commercial bus traveling from Mexico to Phoenix with only blankets, bottles of water and her purse in hand.

Outside the jail she told reporters she wanted to thank God, her lawyer and the media who who made sure her case was heard.

Her husband, Gary Maldonado, crossed the border at Nogales, Ariz., to pick her up.

Arizona senator Jeff Flake posted on Twitter than the U.S. Consul General had confirmed Maldonado's release, and described it as "good news."

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 family had proclaimed her innocence.

“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 earlier Thursday 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.”

Yanira Maldonado was born in Mexico but is a naturalized U.S. citizen, her family said. She and her husband were married a year ago.

A devout Mormon, she believes she may have been set up at the military checkpoint, where soldiers initially accused her husband of smuggling the marijuana before detaining her instead.

She was 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.

Maldonado was transferred from a Hermosillo jail to a women's facility in Nogales on Tuesday.

The family has also been updating a Facebook page in their quest to free Maldonado, which has garnered more than 15,000 supporters.

Matt Salmon of Arizona, who has been in close contact with the family, told TODAY on Thursday.

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