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Jon Hammar

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Country: Mexico

Arrested: August 13, 2012

Status: Released


OVERVIEW

The US-Mexico border has been a hotspot for ShowTrials of American citizens, and the case of Jon Hammar, a US Marine who fought in Afghanistan, is a prime example.  Heightened political tensions and greed commonly lead to the targeting of Americans who become unsuspecting victims while traveling in Mexico for work or leisure.  In the case of Jon Hammar, the political corruption and extortion was clear. Hammar’s family was contacted by individuals within the prison where he was held and told that he would be killed if they did not pay a ransom for his release.  In addition to Hammar’s use as a hostage for ransom, this case also included many other common characteristics of ShowTrials:  judicial misconduct and mistreatment, complex bilateral negotiations, politician involvement, and high-level media attention.

BACKGROUND

Jon Hammar joined the Marines after September 11.  He served four years in Iraq and Afghanistan as a lance corporal.  Hammar was honorably discharged after he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.  He sought treatment at a center for veterans in California.  That is where he met fellow Marine Ian McDonough. 

Hammar’s life long passion was surfing.  He found peace in the ocean.  As a way to cope with their PTSD, Hammar and McDonough packed up their surfboards in a 1972 Winnebago and headed for Costa Rica on a surfing trip. 

Hammar brought along his great-grandfather’s shotgun, an antique heirloom that had been passed down from generation to generation.  He declared the gun at the US side of the border and was told he could bring it into Mexico as long as he filled out the right forms and paid a fee.  He did both, but when he told Mexico officials about the gun at the Matamoros checkpoint, Hammar and McDonough were arrested.

CASE REPORT

In Mexico, it is illegal to carry guns across the border that classify for military use.  Hammar’s shotgun was not the type law enforcement or military use in Mexico; however, Mexican law also prohibits shotguns with a barrel of less than twenty-five inches.  Mexican authorities claim Jon Hammar’s gun measured twenty-four inches.  There is some discrepancy over how the barrel was measured since a barrel of a shotgun can be measured from different points.

Hammar and McDonough were both arrested on August 13, 2012.  While McDonough was released a few days later, Hammar was left to languish in prison for another four months.

“Hammar was threatened and his parents began getting late night phone calls from the prison demanding ransom money for Hammar’s life.”

Hammar was imprisoned in CEDES, a notorious prison run by some of Mexico’s most dangerous drug cartels.  Hammar was threatened and his parents began getting late night phone calls from the prison demanding ransom money for Hammar’s life.  Prison guards also tried to extort money from Hammar’s family.  It was not until the American consulate stepped in that he was placed in solitary confinement, a tiny three-walled room where Hammar was chained to his bed.  He also suffered from dehydration, was malnourished, developed a lung and stomach infection.

On August 18, 2012 Hammar was charged with two federal counts of possessing a weapon for military use.  The charge could have brought 12 years in prison.  The crux of the case revolved around the length of the gun barrel. 

Hammar’s court date was scheduled for January 17, 2013, five months after his arrest.  In an attempt to move the case along and procure Hammar’s release, his family launched a media campaign.  An online petition to free Hammar was started.  It garnered over 26,000 signatures.  Miami-Dade commissioners approved a resolution, sponsored by Commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz, calling for Hammar’s release.  Congressmen also came to Hammar’s defense.  Florida Senator Bill Nelson and Representative Ilena Ros-Lehtinen both actively campaigned for Hammar’s release.

”Mexican officials tried to convince him to plead guilty without a lawyer present.”

Despite the support in the U.S., Mexican authorities tried to manipulate Hammar.  He was taken to court on November 23, 2012 where Mexican officials tried to convince him to plead guilty without a lawyer present.  Hammar’s attorney was conveniently told there was a continuance, or postponement; therefore he did not show up that day.

CURRENT STATUS / AFTERMATH

Though a court date was not scheduled until January 17, 2013, a judge dropped all charges and ordered Hammar’s release on December 20, 2012.  Mexican prosecutors determined there was no intent to commit a crime and did not appeal the judge’s orders.  As a result, Hammar was released and cleared to return to the U.S. on December 21, 2012, just in time to spend Christmas with his family.