Entries in Freed (3)


Ex-Marine Jon Hammar Freed From Mexico Prison

WPLG/ABC News(NEW YORK) -- A former U.S. Marine has been released from a Mexico jail after being locked up for five months on gun charges.

Officials from the U.S. Consulate General in Matamoros, Mexico met Jon Hammar at the prison Friday and escorted him to the U.S. border, where he was reunited with his family in time for the holidays, said Patrick Ventrell, acting deputy spokesperson for the U.S. State Department.

The nightmare unfolded in August, when Hammar and fellow veteran Ian McDonough departed for what was supposed to be a few months of surfing and camping in a Winnebago in Costa Rica.

The two had recently finished a treatment program for post-traumatic stress disorder, which Hammar suffered after fighting in Fallujah, Afghanistan, according to his mother, Olivia Hammar.

"The treatment's very exhausting, it's a tough program, and he was there almost nine months," said Olivia Hammar. "(They) decided they were going to buy an R.V., fix it up, drive down to Costa Rica through Mexico, and we were very nervous about it. We tried to discourage it, to tell him to take a plane, but they said, 'We're taking nine surfboards and need a place to stay.'"

Hammar and McDonough arrived on the border between Mexico and Texas on Aug. 15. Hammar, however, had packed his great grandfather's shotgun, a .410 Sears and Roebuck model nearly 100 years old. Hammar had hoped to hunt small birds with it while living in Costa Rica, Olivia said. The pair wanted to register the gun with Mexican authorities at the crossing point.

"There were signs that said you can't take a firearm, and so Ian said scrap it, don't take it, but Johnny said, 'Let's talk to the customs agent,'" according to Olivia. "They said, 'Technically you can (bring it across) but you'll need to register it,' and had (Johnny) fill out paperwork to present to Mexican officials."

The gun was meant for hunting, but border officials arrested the pair on federal charges of having a weapon that is reserved for military use. McDonough was released when Hammar claimed the gun was his.

Olivia and Jon Hammar, Sr., hired local lawyers to defend their son in Matamoros, Mexico, where Hammar was taken to state prison. The U.S. State Department was notified by Mexican authorities the following day, according to a department official who spoke on background.

"Almost immediately we began receiving extortion calls from cartel members in prison with him," Olivia said. The State Department and Hammar's lawyer, Eddie Varon Levy, would not comment on the claim about cartel members.

"They're saying, 'You need to wire us money or we're going to kill your son, we've already f---ed him up,' and initially I thought it was a scam, but then they put him on the phone and he was breathless and I knew they had," Olivia said. "He said, 'You need to do whatever they say. I'm so sorry. I'll pay you back.'" Hammar had been a lifelong surfer and sailor who loved being outdoors. He enlisted in the Marines at age 18, in 2003, to challenge himself. When he returned from his second tour of duty in Afghanistan in 2007, after his unit lost 16 soldiers, he was "a different man," she said.

Hammar's release was celebrated by U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who was one of his most vocial supporters.

"I am overcome with joy knowing that Jon will be spending Christmas with his parents, family and friends," she said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Convictions of Three Men Overturned in 1991 Rape and Murder

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(CHICAGO) -- Three men imprisoned for nearly 20 years for the 1991 rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl will be freed this week after DNA testing linked a different man to the crime.

Robert Taylor, one of the exonerated men, walked out of Illinois’ Stateville Correctional Center on Thursday a free man, while two others also wrongfully convicted in the case will have their convictions vacated, prosecutors said Thursday.

The three men serving time, along with two others, were convicted in the November 1991 death of Cateresa Matthews.  The 14-year-old girl was last seen at her grandmother’s house and was found dead by a highway near Dixmoor, which is about 20 miles south of Chicago.

The details of this wrongful conviction story have made it stand out, and defense attorneys have been seeking new DNA testing since 2009.  The young men accused of the assault of Matthews and her murder by a single gunshot to the mouth were young teenagers at the time -- three were 14, two were 16.

The treatment which the young men received at the hands of investigators one year later when brought in for questioning was also dubious, as they were held in custody and interrogated for hours before some signed confessions.

Although DNA evidence recovered from the girl’s body did not match any of the five defendants, and even though the confessions were questionable, prosecutors moved forward with the case against them.

The group came to be known as “The Dixmoor Five.”  Defense attorneys claim at least one of the teens was told that they could see their parents if they signed confessions during a marathon questioning.

Ultimately two of the five young men received shorter sentences for testimony implicating the other three.  Robert Lee Veal, now 34, and Shainne Sharp, now 36, received reduced 20-year prison sentences in exchange for their testimonies.

According to records, both Veal and Sharp served approximately 10 years each.

Now, recent tests have identified a serial rapist as the source of the DNA, a man who was 33 at the time of the murder.  That man is serving prison time in Cook County for a drug offense and is currently under investigation for Matthews’ murder.

“It’s truly unexplainable,” said Taylor’s attorney Josh Tepfer.  “It’s one of the most tragic injustices in this state’s history.  It’s five kids who were wrongfully convicted…while a true perpetrator went on and lived a criminal lifestyle.”

The other two exonerated men, Jonathan Barr, 34, and James Harden, 36, who are brothers, should be released on Friday once paperwork is completed.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Wrongfully Accused Inmate Freed After Years on Death Row

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(BRENHAM, Texas) -- Anthony Graves was a young man when he was first imprisoned in 1992.  Now, he's 45, but at least he’s a free man.  All charges were dropped against Graves, who walked out of the county jail in Brenham, Texas earlier this week after spending 16 years on death row for a crime prosecutors now say Graves did not commit.

Graves was arrested and convicted of being an accomplice in the 1992 murders of a woman, her grown daughter and four grandchildren.  Just 27 years old at the time of the murders, Grave insisted he was innocent. His brother testified on the stand that Graves was sleeping at their home when the crimes were committed, but the alibi was to no avail.

After Graves was sent to prison, it was later learned that the district attorney in the case encouraged murderer Robert Carter to lie about Grave’s role in the slayings and that he grossly mishandled the case.  That information, along with the dogged work of investigators, led to Grave’s freedom.

When asked by reporters Thursday what it was like to be out of prison, Graves answered, “For the first few moments, first few hours, I thought that I would wake up back in the cell, it's not real to me. It's still not real to me.”

Graves may be eligible for over $1 million from Texas for his wrongful imprisonment.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio