US Marine held on gun charges arrives at Mexican courthouse to testify
By Joseph J. KolbPublished May 28, 2014FoxNews.com
The U.S. Marine jailed in Mexico since mistakenly crossing the border with registered guns in his pickup two months ago arrived at the federal courthouse in Tijuana Wednesday morning, where his mother told him in an emotional early morning phone call to stay calm and tell the truth.
Shortly after 9 a.m. local time, Tijuana police shut down Avenida Paseo de los Heroes, or Avenue of the Heroes, and moments later a convoy of half dozen blue and white police cars flanking two vans pulled up to a side door of the federal building. Tahmooressi, handcuffed and looking gaunt in a grey prison-issue T-Shirt, looked back beyond a fence and flashed a brief smiled at a Fox News crew that called out to him.
Minutes before Tahmooressi arrived, State Department diplomat and American Citizen Services Chief William Whitaker, who is attached to the U.S. consulate's office, rushed past reporters and headed into the building a half-hour before the appearance, but did not say what his business was.
Tahmooressi was brought from the prison in El Hongo to the courthouse, but was permitted to speak to his mother, Jill Tahmooressi, by phone prior to his departure. She told Fox News her advice to the Marine who served two tours in Afghanistan was to stay positive and tell the truth.
Tahmooressi's Tijuana-based attorney, Alejandro Osuna, said the Marine will be afforded the chance to tell his story to Judge Victor Octavio Luna Escobedo. The Mexican customs agent and soldiers involved in his arrest will also make statements.
"Justice will prevail, but not because of the truth from the other side."
- Jill Tahmooressi, mother of Marine held in Mexico
"I have no confidence in their system," said Jill Tahmooressi. "Justice will prevail, but not because of the truth from the other side."
Since his arrest, Andrew has faced death and rape threats, has had his feet and hands shackled and lost weight, according to his mother, who has been able to visit him and speaks with her son by phone several times a week. Speaking from her home in Weston, Fla., the worried mom said her son is relieved that he has the opportunity to state his case in open court and before a judge.
"It's never difficult to tell the truth," Jill Tahmooressi said.
When Andrew Tahmooressi realized that he was entering Mexico with the weapons at the poorly-marked crossing at the San Ysidro checkpoint, Tahmooressi immediately called 911, but was told by American officials that since he was in Mexico there was nothing they could do to help him. One Mexican customs official reportedly was going to accompany Tahmooressi back across the border but was quickly overruled by a soldier.
The judge has declared no media will be allowed in the courtroom, in the Paseo de Los Heroes building. The only people expected to be in the room aside from those offering testimony are the judge, a court officer, typist, translator, two attorneys and the prosecutor present. It was not clear if Whitaker would be permitted in the room.
Tahmooressi's attorney, Alejandro Osuna, of Tijuana, said key pieces could begin coming together as the case winds through Mexico's judicial system.
“Andrew said that one of the customs officials offered to escort him back across the border,” Osuna said. “We need to find out what happened at that point."
Osuna said Tahmooressi will question the officers about things they stated during their testimony, and can also rebut statements if he believes that they are lying.
Key details could emerge from tomorrow's hearing, but Jill Tahmooressi said she expects those testifying against her son to all be on the same page.
"The customs official is already scripting his testimony," said Jill Tahmooressi, who does not plan to attend the hearing in Mexico, out of fear that her outspokenness on behalf of her son could land her in trouble south of the border.
In addition to the testimony, a field expert will be sworn in at the hearing, allowing them to formally begin to prepare their reports.
By his own admission, Tahmooressi acknowledged at the border he had registered weapons and that he had no intention of even entering Mexico. That should have allowed him to turn around, according to U.S. border officials, who told Fox News the entire ordeal could have been stopped with a little discretion and a phone call or two.
Tahmooressi, who fellow Marines described as selfless and disciplined, appears to be in a better frame of mind and ready to appear in court, according to his mother. Wednesday's hearing is the first of several, with subsequent proceedings to involve hearing the 911 tape and bringing court officials to the border crossing.
A State Department spokeswoman said Secretary of State John Kerry raised the issue with Mexican officials, but the Obama administration has said little publicly about the case.
But on the border, there has been a groundswell of public support for Tahmooressi, with a demonstration planned to occur at the border Wednesday.
“Tension is building," said Gina Loudon, of the Patriot Coalition of San Diego County, which organized the demonstration. "Many in the U.S. think it is unjust, un-American, for this brave Marine who fought for our freedom to spend Memorial Day in a Mexican prison.
"This American citizen made an honest mistake," she said. "The border is very confusing, he should be afforded the same courtesy that we have extended to Mexican citizens in similar circumstances. He should be released immediately."