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Lawyer of Utah man arrested in Venezuela confident he'll be released on Thursday

Josh Holt (R) and his wife Thasmara Belen Caleño Candelo (L).

Josh Holt (R) and his wife Thasmara Belen Caleño Candelo (L).  (Photo Courtesy of Laurie Holt)

The lawyer for the U.S. man being held in a Venezuela prison under weapon charges says she is confident that her client, 24-year-old Joshua Holt, will be exonerated or at least temporarily released during a preliminary hearing set for Thursday morning in a Caracas court.

Jeanette Prieto told Fox News Latino that the defense has enough evidence to prove Holt’s innocence, but declined to comment any further to protect her case.

“We are prepared to refute all of the prosecutor’s arguments,” she said. “The judge will have to review the evidence presented by the defense and by the plaintiff and make a decision.”

Holt, a Salt Lake City resident, was arrested on June 30 in Caracas, five days after marrying his Venezuelan bride Thamara Caleño Candelo.

Venezuela authorities contend Holt was using his wife's apartment to stockpile weapons and have suggested his case was linked to other attempts by the U.S. to undermine President Nicolas Maduro's rule amid deep economic and political turbulence.

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“This case is just an example of being in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Prieto said.

She explained that during Thursday’s hearing the judge will decide whether to take the case to trial or drop the charges. Either way, she expects Holt to be released.

“If the charges are dropped, he will be completely free and justice will have been done. If not, we expect him to be released pending trial,” she told FNL. “Legally there is no reason to keep him behind bars.”

Holt met his wife Caleño Candelo, who has two small children from a previous marriage, through the website of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, for which he worked in a Mission in Washington State.

According to local reports, on the night of June 30 police found weapons in the house where the couple was arrested — a grenade, an AK-47 rifle and an M4 assault rifle.

Holt and his wife insist the weapons were all planted.

Since his arrest, Holt has been portrayed by the government as “el agente gringo,” a U.S. spy who infiltrated the country under false pretenses.

Back in July, then-Interior Minister Gustavo Gonzalez Lopez described him as a "trained gunman" and questioned the legality of the couple’s marriage license.

"Under different facades, the secret services of the United States are seeking to achieve goals in an unconventional war through interventionist actions that stimulate the formation of criminal paramilitary gangs in housing complexes," he said.

He even accused Holt and his wife of being part of a paramilitary gang called Los Sindicalistas, responsible for the murder of Chavista leader Omar Jesús Molina Marin on April 12.

But none of those accusations have been formally added to the legal charges.

“This has been a complex case because of the improper handling of the authorities,” Prieto said. “It has been use as a political pawn, even though Holt is not a politician and wasn’t doing any related activity.”

Thursday’s hearing, which is expected to be held before noon, will be closed to the public.

Prieto is the head of Holt’s defense, but he is also being assisted by a group of lawyers from Venezuela’s Mormon community and the U.S. Embassy in Caracas.

Holt is being held at El Helicoide, a prison managed by the National Intelligence Services where a dozen of political prisoners are also detained.

Franz von Bergen is a freelancer reporter living in Caracas.

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