MIAMI - A Marine veteran jailed in a dangerous area in Mexico for carrying a shotgun across the border was expected to be released Friday, officials and his lawyer said.
An aide to a legal representative of the Mexican attorney general's office told U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson's staff about the pending release after Nelson's office got word from the mother of Jon Hammar, a press release said.
"No American should be in a Mexican jail for five months without being able to have his case in front of a judge," Nelson said in a statement. "We're grateful; this is a good Christmas present."
Hammar's attorney, Eddie Varon Levy, said he was flying Friday from Mexico City to Matamoros to pick his client up. After that, the attorney said they intended to fly to Brownsville, Texas, later in the day. "I'm very happy. I feel that the Mexican legal system came out the way it should have," he said.
A defense lawyer said it was determined there was no intent to commit a crime, Nelson's office said in the press release. A U.S. Consulate official said they are standing by to escort the former Marine safely back to the United States as soon as they get official word of a release. Nelson was among a handful of local elected officials who urged the State Department to help get Hammar out of Mexico. His family said he was being held in isolation after they received threats to his safety.
Civilian gun ownership is illegal under Mexican law unless the owner purchases the weapon from a special shop run by the country's Department of Defense.
"The Department of State warns all U.S. citizens against taking any type of firearm or ammunition into Mexico," according to the website of the U.S. Embassy in Mexico. "Entering Mexico with a firearm, certain types of knives, or even a single round of ammunition is illegal, even if the weapon or ammunition is taken into Mexico unintentionally."
Mexican law also bans shotguns with barrels of less than 25 inches. The family said Hammar's shotgun has a barrel of 24 inches.
Tourists are allowed to bring guns for hunting on rare occasions, but Mexican officials said all visitors must receive a special permit before entering the country. Mexican customs agents do not issue gun permits. As a result, anyone crossing the border with a firearm or ammunition without a previously issued government permit is in instant violation of Mexican law, which stipulates long jail terms for breaking weapons laws.
Hammar and his friend were on their way to Costa Rica in August and planned to drive across the Mexican border near Matamoros in a Winnebago filled with surfboards and camping gear. Hammar, 27, asked U.S. border agents what to do with the unloaded shotgun. His family said agents told them to fill out a form for the gun, which belonged to Hammar's great-grandfather.
But when the pair crossed the border and handed the paperwork to Mexican officials, they impounded the RV and jailed the men, saying it was illegal to carry that type of gun. Hammar's friend was later released because the gun did not belong to him.
Varon Levy said he was not sure of Hammar's immediate plans once he returns to the U.S. "Probably some down time," he said.
Michael Weissenstein contributed to this report from Mexico City.