CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico (AP) — A Mexican appeals judge on Thursday significantly lessened the charge against a Dallas truck driver who says he made a wrong turn into Mexico with a trailer full of ammunition, a decision his attorney said may result in a fine or community service instead of a potential 30-year prison sentence.
Jabin Bogan, who has been held in a maximum security prison in Veracruz since late April, is now only accused of possession of ammunition instead of a heftier trafficking charge that the judge dismissed. The lesser charge carries a maximum of six years in prison if convicted, though Bogan's attorney, Emilio de la Rosa, said he has advised his client to plead no contest so he can push for his release.
"We've given this guy back 30 years of his life," de la Rosa told The Associated Press.
Carlos Spector, Bogan's El Paso, Texas-based attorney, said they will follow de la Rosa's advice so that Bogan can be sentenced within four to six weeks. De la Rosa says he expects Bogan to be sentenced to between two to three years in prison. Mexican law allows for prison terms under four years to be exchanged for community service or a fine, he said.
"This is a positive sign that the reform in the Mexican judicial is working," he said. "They looked at the facts and did not take pressure, because if any case could have been politicized, it was this."
Bogan was arrested less than 100 feet from a giant billboard that reads, "no more weapons." The sign, inaugurated by Mexican President Felipe Calderon two months before Bogan was caught, was made out of seized high caliber rifles and ammunition.
During the inauguration speech, Calderon blamed lax U.S. gun laws for the flow of weapons into Mexico.
"Mexico needs your help... the best way to do that is by stopping the flow of assault weapons into Mexico," Calderon said.
The judge's decision comes two months after testimony from Mexican customs agents contradicted prosecutors' claim that Bogan had 268,000 bullets hidden under the floorboards of his 18-wheeler's trailer when he was arrested April 17 after crossing from West Texas into Juarez. Agents testified in June that Bogan was trying to make a U-turn back into the U.S. when they found the ammunition bundled on top of wooden pallets inside the trailer.
Since then, Bogan's lawyers and family in the U.S. have cried foul, claiming the ammunition charge was too hefty for what they claim was an honest mistake.
"I'm just rejoicing in the moment, to know that my son is soon going to come home," said Aletha Smith, Bogan's mother, at a press conference Thursday afternoon in Dallas.
The 27-year-old Bogan had made two deliveries in El Paso, Texas, and said he was supposed to drive to Phoenix to deliver assault rifle ammunition to a wholesaler there when he got lost. He said he took a wrong exit on the freeway and drove toward the border, where he said a law enforcement official told him to continue driving across the bridge. Bogan said that when he realized he had crossed into Mexico, he attempted to turn back, but the layout of the traffic lanes prevented him from returning without first crossing into the truck inspection area in Juarez.
De La Rosa said surveillance footage taken at the border crossing shows Bogan blocking several lanes of southbound traffic for more than half an hour while trying to maneuver his 18-wheeler back to U.S. soil.
Mexican prosecutors alleged he tried to clandestinely smuggle bullets commonly used by drug cartels. Their request to impose both possession and trafficking charges against Bogan was rejected.
A message left with prosecutors was not immediately returned Thursday.
Associated Press writer Nomaan Merchan in Dallas contributed to this report.