MEXICO CITY (AP) — A federal judge on Friday freed two teenagers who were jailed nearly 10 months despite evidence showing that the cocaine that police found in their van may have been hidden in the vehicle before it was bought at a U.S. government auction.
Judge Elenisse Leyva delivered a verdict of not guilty after the prosecutor decided to drop charges, saying the drugs could have been concealed in the secret compartment of the minivan without the teens' knowledge.
Federal police in November detained Sergio Torres Duarte, 18, and his friend Julio Cesar Moreno, 19, at a checkpoint near the Pacific Coast resort city of Mazatlan, as they traveled to a soccer match. Officers discovered a kilogram of cocaine hidden under the minivan's dashboard and booked them at a nearby jail.
The Torres family bought the vehicle for $3,900 at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection auction in February 2012. After the young men were arrested, they discovered that the blue 2004 Toyota Sienna had been seized by American authorities in October 2011 for hiding bundles of cocaine.
U.S. officials acknowledged earlier this year in a letter to Mexican prosecutors that they may have failed to find all the drugs in the minivan.
Every brick of drugs confiscated in an inspection at the international bridge in Pharr, Texas had the word "Good" written with a black marker, just like the one seized by Mexican police a year afterward, Torres' father said. In July, the family began a media campaign to draw attention to what they said was "an error by the U.S."
"We proved our innocence and thanks to God we are now free men," Torres said after leaving jail on Friday.
Torres' father, also named Sergio Torres, said the family is so glad their son is free that they haven't considered filing a lawsuit for damages. "We are happy just by having these guys back with us," the father said.
There have been similar past cases of people being arrested for drugs they didn't know had been previously hidden in their vehicle.
The Mexican army arrested two men in 2002 after finding 22 packages of marijuana in a secret compartment of their SUV, also bought at a U.S. government auction. An appeals court threw out their five-year sentence after ruling the drugs had been hidden in the vehicle before they bought it.
Adriana Gomez Licon is on Twitter http://twitter.com/agomezlicon