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Mexico to free veteran nabbed on questionable gun charge

- The Washington Times - Friday, December 21, 2012

A former U.S. Marine who saw combat in both Iraq and Afghanistan was scheduled Friday for release from a prison in Mexico where he has been held without action since August on a questionable gun charge, according to an aide with the Mexican embassy.

The aide to a legal representative of the Mexican attorney general's office told the staff of U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, Florida Democrat, about the pending release of Jon Hammar after the senator's office got word from the former Marine's mother.

A Hammar defense lawyer said Mexican authorities determined there was no intent of the former Marine's part to commit a crime.

Meantime, Mr. Nelson said a U.S. Consulate official was standing by to escort the former Marine safely back to the United States as soon as they get official word of a release. Mr. Nelson is among 69 elected officials who have been pressing the Mexican government hard for the former Marine's freedom.

Over the past few months, Mr. Nelson and his office have been working with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the State Department and Mexican authorities to get 27-year-old former Marine released from the Matamoros, Mexico, prison where he has been held since his August arrest.

Mr. Hammar and his family live in the Miami area.

"No American should be in a Mexican jail for five months without being able to have his case in front of a judge," said Mr. Nelson, who, among other things, had made a direct appeal to the Mexican ambassador to the U.S. "We're grateful; this is a good Christmas present."

Mr. Hammar's ordeal began earlier this year when he and a friend took off in a Winnebago for a surfing trip to Costa Rica. According to Mr. Hammar's mother, surfing has been a release for him since he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

On crossing the U.S.-Mexico border in August, Mr. Hammar and a traveling companion were arrested by Mexican authorities for bringing a shotgun, once owned by Mr. Hammar's great-grandfather, into the country. According to his family, Mr. Hammar was told by CBP officials he could bring the gun into Mexico if it was registered and a fee was paid.

For months after his arrest, there was little action by Mexican officials. But his story soon captured widespread media attention after Mr. Nelson, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican, and other lawmakers drew attention to the mistreatment he'd received in prison — including being shackled to a bed in prison. He also faced death threats from other inmates and was beaten when he was placed in the prison's general population.

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