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U.S. citizens in Ciudad Juarez prison lose appeal against drug convictions

July 6, 2011 |  1:57 pm

Quijas huckabee us citizens juarez reuters

Two U.S. citizens serving time in a Mexican border prison for what their supporters call a bogus drug-smuggling convictions have lost their final appeal for freedom.

A Mexican federal court ruled on Tuesday that Shohn Huckabee and Carlos Quijas, both of El Paso, will remain behind bars in a case that began with a December 2009 incident. They were stopped by Mexican soldiers in Ciudad Juarez and two suitcases of marijuana were found in their truck. They were arrested, taken to a remote location to be questioned, and then handed over to civilian authorities, who later found the men guilty of carrying drugs with the intent to sell.

The Americans' families and lawyers -- as well as three witnesses -- claim the soldiers planted the drugs in their truck and later tortured the men. Mexico's military denied the torture accusations. The case has been described as another example of the failings in Mexico's broken justice system

Huckabee's father, Kevin Huckabee, told the El Paso Times that losing the appeal was especially disappointing because he said a magistrate judge seemed sympathetic to his son's claims in an informal conversation. Additionally, other Juarez inmates seeking "amparo" appeals had been granted their release recently, he said.

"The only difference I can think of is that [Huckabee and Quijas] are American," the elder Huckabee told the El Paso paper. 

Ciudad Juarez has the sad distinction of being the site of the worst drug-related violence in Mexico as well as one of the largest concentrations of human-rights abuse claims against security forces, as La Plaza has previously reported.

Mexican and international human-rights organizations say the Mexican military has often planted drugs or evidence on citizens in an effort to mark up arrests and convictions. Gustavo de la Rosa, a prominent human-rights lawyer in Ciudad Juarez, has said he knows of 70 such cases in the city alone. 

Despite concerns over abuses, Mexican soldiers continue to run checkpoints along the border looking for drugs.

In another such case, supporters claim Ana Martinez, an elementary school teacher in El Paso, had 105 pounds of marijuana planted in her vehicle by the military before she crossed the border to work one morning in late May.

The case highlights the risks faced by binational motorists like Martinez who are enrolled in a U.S. rapid border-crossing program known as Sentri. Smugglers have been known to stash drugs in Sentri-enrolled vehicles without drivers' knowledge. Martinez, 35, is now behind bars and awaiting trial. She is teaching English to fellow inmates in the meantime, the El Paso Times reports.

Huckabee, 24, and Quijas, 37, meanwhile, have three years remaining to serve on their five-year sentence.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: U.S. citizens Carlos Quijas, left, and Shohn Huckabee, in prison in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Credit: Alejandro Bringas / Reuters