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Venezuela judge assigned to case of jailed U.S. man fails to show up for critical hearing

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)

Joshua Holt, the Utah man imprisoned in Venezuela since June 30 on weapon charges, and his wife Thamara Caleño Candelo will remain in prison until a new hearing takes place, as the judge assigned to his case failed to appear in court Thursday.

“When I arrived to the courthouse, they announced that the hearing wouldn’t take place,” Holt’s lawyer, Jeannette Prieto, told Fox News Latino.

“According to Venezuelan law, there are no limits for the number of times that a hearing can be postponed, although legally it should be held without delay.”

The hearing was expected to deliver a critical decision — either to try the 24-year-old man or drop the charges.

Either way, the defense hoped Holt would be released at least temporarily while awaiting trial. A new hearing has yet to be scheduled. Prieto said they expect to have information on the new hearing date on Friday.

Holt's mother, Laurie Moon Holt, told FNL via text, "I'm devastated. I can't keep doing this."

Prieto, however, is confident that Holt will be released in the next hearing.

“The accusation against him is not backed by enough evidence,” she said. “It’s only based on a statement by Sebin [the national intelligence agency] personnel, while we have a number of witnesses with a different version from that of the intelligence agents.”

Holt, portrayed by the socialist government as a “gringo agent,” was arrested alongside his Venezuelan wife, whom he had wed just five days before.

His health is deteriorating, his lawyer said, and his three requests to be transferred to a medical facility have been denied by Sebin (even though they were approved by a judge). 

The first transfer request was filed on July 21st, when Holt presented symptoms of kidney stones. The second was on Aug. 25th for respiratory problems and the third was earlier this month for bleeding hemorrhoids.

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.

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

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.

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.”

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.

Franz von Bergen is a freelancer reporter living in Caracas.

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