"We had pleaded with him to get help," Jill Tahmooressi said.
In San Diego, Andrew participated in a program orientation on March 20. His mother said he attended a group therapy session on March 31, and that he then went to Tijuana to get a "good meal and check out the sights."
Andrew parked his pickup truck nearby and walked across the border into Mexico. Later that day, he returned to his vehicle to go to dinner in San Ysidro, a district in the south of San Diego.
Because of construction that has been ongoing since 2009, Santos said the highways around the border crossing are "confusing." Santos said the signage in the area is "inadequate," and added that the final exits before the border have been moved. He said Tahmooressi, when leaving the parking lot, took what seemed to be a "reasonable turn" but ended up back at the Mexican port of entry.
"The turn there is very counter-intuitive, and when you take it, there is no opportunity to tun around or stop," Santos said. "The configuration is ridiculous. He made a very natural mistake."
Tahmooressi tried explaining his predicament to Mexican customs agents, but his mother said the authorities ordered him to move to checkpoints further south into Mexico. He was then arrested after the Mexican military found three firearms—a .45-caliber handgun, a shotgun and an AR-15—and ammunition inside his vehicle. The guns are legally registered to Tahmooressi in the United States, but Mexico prohibits any firearms or ammunition from crossing into the country.
If convicted, Tahmooressi could be looking at a maximum 21-year prison sentence in Mexico, Santos said.
Tahmooressi’s case has generated a media firestorm. More than 100,000 people have signed an online petition asking President Barack Obama to demand his release. Last month, more than 20 United States congressmen and senators sent a letter requesting Mexico’s Attorney General to dismiss the charges.
"We fully respect Mexico’s rights to enforce its laws, but we believe Andrew is not a criminal or a weapons trafficker," the lawmakers wrote in their May 8 letter.
The incident would seem to be a straightforward case of accidental entry, but issues with Tahmooressi’s first defense lawyer complicated the court proceedings.
Jill Tahmooressi said that Andrew’s lawyer, Alejandro Osuna of Tijuana, told her son to lie to a judge by saying that he had never previously been to Mexico. She said her son protested his lawyer’s strategy during a court hearing.
"The lawyer told (Andrew) that it wouldn’t look good if he said he had been to Mexico before," Jill Tahmooressi said. "The lawyer then gave me this whole song and dance about the Mexican legal system being different, and how I had to trust him. A week or two later, he again instructed me in no uncertain terms to get my boy in line and to make sure he followed the script."
Santos said he told Osuna that the lying was "unnecessary" and that it made a "huge mess" of the legal proceedings.
"It was completely foolhardy to do this," Santos said.
Jill Tahmooressi said she selected Osuna from an online list of attorneys posted by the U.S. consulate in Tijuana. On May 28, she fired Osuna and retained a public defender. Andrew is awaiting his next court hearing.
In an e-mail message to Aleteia, Osuna declined to comment on Jill Tahmooressi’s statement that he had told her son to lie. He said the fact that Andrew Tahmooressi had previous entries into Mexico was "irrelevant to prove the no-intent defense."
"Our work has been to advise Sgt. Tahmooressi of the crime he is accused of, about his right not to self-incriminate himself, and the strategy we were following to get him out, which was focused on proving that he had no intent to cross," Osuna said.