SOUTH JORDAN — Utah relatives of a Mormon mother jailed in Mexico on accusations she tried to smuggle nearly 12 pounds of marijuana into the U.S. say the woman is innocent.
A court hearing was held Tuesday in Nogales, Sonora, for 42-year-old Yanira Maldonado, a mother of seven from the Phoenix suburb of Goodyear.
Maldonado and her husband, Gary, said they were returning from the funeral of her aunt last Wednesday when the passenger bus they were on was stopped at a military checkpoint about 90 miles from the U.S-Mexico border.
Yanira Maldonado was arrested after soldiers inspected the bus and reported finding the marijuana underneath her seat, according to a spokeswoman for the army in the northern state of Sonora.
"She needs to get out," said Amy Rayner, Gary Maldonado's sister who lives in South Jordan. "She's innocent. She's not guilty."
Yanira Maldonado was taken to a state prison in Nogales after being turned over to federal prosecutors, said army spokeswoman Denisse Coronado.
A federal judge will decide whether the woman should face trial, Coronado said. Gary Maldonado claims his wife was framed and says authorities originally demanded $5,000 for her release.
"We don't know what's going on with the Mexican government," Rayner said.
Rayner said the family has been getting very little information from the Mexican government and has to rely on communication from the U.S. Consulate and members of Congress who have gotten involved.
Several family members are staying in Nogales, she said, and have attempted to visit Yanira Maldonado, but only her husband and son were able to see her. When the two visited, they were each able to hold her hand through small holes in the cell wall, Rayner said.
"She did a lot of crying," she said. "She's really emotional."
The Mexican Embassy in Washington, D.C., said in a statement Tuesday that Yanira Maldonado's "rights to a defense counsel and due process are being observed." The embassy didn't respond to allegations she was framed.
Brandon Klippel, Gary Maldonado's brother-in-law, said military officers from the checkpoint were expected to testify at another court hearing Wednesday.
Patrick Ventrell, acting deputy spokesman for the U.S. State Department in Mexico, confirmed the woman's arrest but referred all questions to her attorney and Mexican authorities.
Rayner said Yanira Maldonado has never been involved with drugs before, describing her as a Christian woman and a "staunch" member of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
"You hear of things happening like this in other foreign countries," she said, "but you never think it'll happen to your family."
Yanira Maldonado is originally from Mexico and has been a U.S. citizen for more than 15 years.
Contributing: Devon Dolan, Associated Press