American Veteran of Iraq War Being Held in Mexican Prison on Weapons Charges

An American veteran of the Iraq War is being held in a notoriously dangerous prison in Juarez, Mexico, charged with carrying weapons over the border in his car.

Army Spc. Richard Raymond Medina Torres, on leave from his base at Fort Hood, Tex., was arrested in Juarez April 21 when he said he mistakenly crossed the border and found himself on the Mexican side of the Bridge of the Americas.

Medina Torres, 25, told Mexican officials that he intended to park his car in El Paso and walk across the border for breakfast, but got lost on the highway and was forced to cross into Mexico.

According to the El Paso Times, Mexican border police stopped him as he attempted a U-turn, and Medina Torres was arrested when they found an AR-15 rifle and handgun in his trunk. The newspaper said that Medina Torres said he'd bought the guns years before and had all the proper permits. However possession of firearms in Mexico is illegal and strictly controlled.

"It’s a very sticky situation for foreigners to have weapons in Mexico," said a spokesman at the bureau of consular affairs at the State Department. "The laws are stricter and narrower there," he said.

Medina Torres, a helicopter mechanic, said he was on his way to Fresno, Calif., to visit his mother in time for her birthday Thursday. His mother told that while on route, he wanted to make a pit stop for a Mexican breakfast, but instead got lost. That is when he was arrested, she said.

"It was his very first time," said Gloria Medina. "All he wanted was a good Mexican meal."

He never got his meal, and is now waiting in the infamous Cereso prison, a jail for some of Mexico's most violent drug smugglers, for a Mexican judge to decide his fate.

His mother said, “He told me ‘Mother, all I do is pray and sleep, pray and sleep.’”

Medina Torres was with charged with carrying weapons over the border in his car and an additional and much more serious charge of possession of a military-style weapon, which has since been dropped. If sentenced, Medina Torres could face from 3 to 10 years in prison, according to the El Paso Times.

But his mother said she is hopeful about prospect for his release. "I'm hopeful, I'm optimistic today because the consul [in Juarez] told me that they're optimistic, very positive" about his case.

The American consul in Juarez “has taken a special interest in my son’s case," she told "He told me, ‘He’s a fine young man and he’s a good son and a good soldier.'

“I asked him to take of my son (the consulate general) and he said that he would.”

According to the State Department spokesman, the U.S. military normally advocates for American soldiers who have been incarcerated abroad.

"In most cases overseas the military handles their own cases," the spokesman said. "In this case because he was probably on vacation, and by virtue of the fact that he’s incarcerated in Mexico, the consul is working the case."

Medina Torres enlisted in the Army in 2001. He had recently returned from a 15-month tour in Iraq, his mother told He also served in Korea, and while in Fresno had planned to request a transfer to Honduras.

“I’m optimistic, praying that the Lord will deliver him from this ordeal,” said Gloria Medina.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.