Mexico Releases Navy Veteran After 13 Years Of Wrongful Incarceration

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After spending 13 years in a Mexican prison for murder, a U.S. Navy veteran was released after Mexican authorities overturned his conviction March 29.

James Frisvold, now 46, was imprisoned for the 2010 murder of Natalya Sidorova, a Russian citizen married to American Jerry Schultz, ABC News reported. Schultz, Sidorova and Frisvold had traveled to Acapulco together after Shultz promised Frisvold a job in Sacramento.

Sidorova was reportedly stabbed multiple times while walking with Schultz in their hotel. After a bystander noticed the scene, Schultz called for help and later identified Frisvold as the culprit, according to the outlet.

Mexican authorities arrested both Frisvold and Schultz in the aftermath of the murder. Frisvold, however, admitted to the crime during an interrogation, said he was tortured and forced to sign a confession, ABC News reported. He was convicted of “qualified homicide” in 2017, despite testimony from a government-employed criminologist who stated Frisvold did not match the appearance of Sidorova’s killer in the surveillance footage of the incident, the outlet stated.

When Frisvold’s conviction was overturned by a state appeals court in 2019, he was retried instead of being released. In that trial, a second government-employed criminologist argued that Frisvold could not be the same man in the surveillance footage due to structural differences in appearance.

After months of  “unofficial diplomacy” headed up by Jonathan Franks, a family representative and former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, and now head of the Richardson Center for Global Engagement, a local judge found Frisvold “not guilty” and ordered his release.

“I’m so happy to be out and going home and be reunited with my family and to start my life again. I’m so grateful for my second chance,” Frisvold told ABC News.

The reunion with his family, while long-anticipated, will no doubt be bittersweet as Frisvold’s father died in Feb. 2020 after years of trying to secure his son’s release, the outlet stated. Determined not to die without ever hugging her son again, Mariann Frisvold, hired Franks, whose background in helping other detained Americans abroad gave her hope.

Now, after Frisvold’s release, Franks hopes his case will “start a conversation” with policymakers to better address situations of wrongful imprisonment abroad. (RELATED: Family Of Ex-Marine Left Behind In Russia ‘Devastated’ After Brittney Griner Released In High-Level Prisoner Swap)

“For years, the Frisvolds tried and failed to get the attention of three successive U.S. administrations and repeatedly related his torture and his innocence to the consular agents in Acapulco to no avail,” Franks told ABC News, laying a lion’s share of the blame on the U.S. State Department and its consulate in Acapulco.

“This is proof to me that what I’ve always suspected was true — that if we could just do boots on the ground where the person is locked up and have a fair chance at making an argument, we could bring home a lot of people. And that’s what happened here,” Franks said in the earlier interview, cited by the outlet.

The State Department told ABC News it was aware of Frisvold’s release but offered no other comment.