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Ex-U.S. Marine jailed in Mexico wins back his freedom

Jon Hammar, a former U.S. Marine jailed in northern Mexico is seen in an undated photograph provided by his family. REUTERS/Handout
Jon Hammar, a former U.S. Marine jailed in northern Mexico is seen in an undated photograph provided by his family. REUTERS/Handout

By Tom Brown

MIAMI (Reuters) - The mother of a former U.S. Marine jailed in a notoriously violent corner of northern Mexico said he was expected to be released on Friday after he was taken prisoner about four months ago for possessing a shotgun that was a family heirloom.

"They ruled last night. Literally, we got like a call from the lawyer at 2:30 in the morning," said Olivia Hammar, the Miami-based mother of 27-year-old Jon Hammar.

She said Mexican authorities had decided to drop all charges against her troubled son, whose case grabbed the U.S. media spotlight and stirred controversy earlier this month, after determining that he never intended to commit a crime in Mexico.

Hammar's imminent release was confirmed in a press release from the office of Florida Senator Bill Nelson, who said he got the news from the Mexican embassy in Washington.

"We're grateful; this is a good Christmas present," Nelson said.

Hammar was heading to Costa Rica to go surfing when he crossed into Matamoros, Mexico, from Brownsville, Texas, in mid-August in a beat-up old Winnebago motor home he and a friend bought especially for the trip.

He had registered the shotgun with U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials on the U.S. side of the border, declaring he planned to take it with him into Mexico.

Despite being told that the shotgun, a Sear & Roebuck model that once belonged to his great-grandfather, posed no problem Hammar was arrested as soon as he crossed into Mexico. The arrest came when he tried to register the gun with Mexican customs officials, Olivia Hammar said.

The U.S. Embassy in Mexico City said Hammar was charged with possession of a deadly weapon. And the family lawyer, Eddie Varon-Levy, had said Hammar faced up to 12 years in prison if he was found guilty.

Making matters worse, Hammar suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder from his grueling combat experience and the death of a fellow Marine who was killed by a sniper's bullet when the two served together in Falluja, Iraq. He had just completed treatment for PTSD at a center for veterans in California last year, before getting caught up in his misadventure in Matamoros.

His ordeal there, in one of the most violent parts of Mexico, included being shackled to a bed and receiving death threats and extortion demands from drug cartel gangsters who run the prison known as CEDES in Matamoros like their personal fiefdom, Hammar's parents said.

Olivia Hammar told Reuters her husband, Jon Hammar Sr., had flown down to south Texas from Miami early Sunday and planned to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in a rental car to pick up his son at or near the prison.

"He hasn't actually been released yet," she said.

"I just got an email from the (U.S.) consulate saying they're waiting for the confirmation."

(Reporting by Tom Brown; Editing by Nick Zieminski)