Marine returns home after 7 months in Mexican jail

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(CNN) -- U.S. Marine reservist Sgt. Andrew Paul Tahmooressi is enjoying his first day home Saturday in Miami, freed from a seven-month detention in Mexico in a weapons case that he claimed grew merely from his taking a wrong turn.

His jailing drew widespread attention because he and his mother made an emotional plea for his release, echoed by such public figures as politician Bill Richardson and television host Montel Williams, both of whom pressured Mexican officials on Tahmooressi's behalf.

The Marine who served in Afghanistan said he was being wrongly prosecuted and was suffering post-traumatic stress disorder.

"I think he's thrilled," family spokesman Jonathan Franks told CNN on Saturday morning.

"It's setting in. They need a little bit of time to reconnect as a family," Franks said.

Tahmooressi boarded a flight from San Diego late Friday, shortly after his release.

"It is with an overwhelming and humbling feeling of relief that we confirm that Andrew was released today after spending 214 days in Mexican jail," his relatives said in a statement.

It was an emotional reunion with "big smiles" and a big, lengthy hug between Tahmooressi and his mother when they saw each other Friday evening.

"Without question, it was one of the most powerful experiences of my life," Franks said, who was present for the mother-son reunion. "Everybody was very excited."

"These are people who guided by deep faith and they're grateful. I'm not sure how much more eloquently you can put it," Franks said.

Tahmooressi is in good physical condition, Franks said. "Obviously he hasn't spent a lot of time outside. He hasn't had much access to a gym as he had in his prior life, but he looks great," Franks said.

The Marine doesn't bear any "ill will" toward Mexico, Franks added.

Tahmooressi and his mother weren't making public comments Saturday.

"After a while, he will speak for himself," Franks said. "I think it's going to be several days, some time next week."

Former New Mexico Gov. Richardson said he was among those who pressed for Tahmooressi's release, and visited the former Marine at Mexico's El Hongo federal prison last week.

"I think the Mexican judge made the right choice ... because of PTSD, on humanitarian grounds, (that) he should be released," Richardson told CNN on Saturday morning.

"He's a good young man," Richardson said. "He served two tours in Afghanistan. He's suffered enough."

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said many U.S. officials and some Congress members worked through the Mexican legal process on behalf of Tahmooressi.

"We are pleased Mexican judicial authorities ordered Sgt. Tahmooressi released on October 31," Psaki said.

Tahmooressi was held on weapons charges after his arrest March 31 at a checkpoint in Tijuana, Mexico.

At the time, Mexican customs agents found three firearms in his truck, including a .45-caliber pistol, a pump shotgun and an AR-15 rifle. Mexico has strict federal laws on bringing weapons into the country.

Since his arrest, Tahmooressi has maintained that he took a wrong turn on the California side of the border and accidentally crossed into Tijuana.

The Mexican court said it found no cause to prosecute him on charges of carrying two firearms used exclusively by the military, possessing cartridges used exclusively by the military and carrying a firearm without a license

It also recommended he be treated for post-traumatic stress disorder.

In May, his mother said he served with the Marines in Afghanistan, and had moved to the San Ysidro, California, area to get treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.

"He has unresolved, or untreated PTSD, and he cannot get the cognitive therapy behavior that veterans of America receive ... in a Mexico jail, where there is no such thing," Jill Tahmooressi said earlier this year.

Paul Tahmooressi has described a suicide attempt with a shattered light bulb after being punched, slapped, cursed at, deprived of water and food, and shackled to a bed with a four-point restraint in a Mexican prison.

Conditions improved after media coverage of his plight, he said.

Mexican prison authorities have denied the abuse allegations.

The Richardson Center for Global Engagement said Bill Richardson, the former governor of New Mexico, visited him last week at El Hongo federal prison in Mexico and was instrumental in securing his release.


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