A Mexican court lifted the arrest order of Maria de los Angeles Pineda, the wife of the former mayor of Iguala and one of the state's main suspects in the disappearance of 43 students, due to a lack of evidence against her.
The office of the federal attorney general in Mexico has long maintained that the 43 students from the Ayotzinapa teacher training college were arrested by local police on the orders of Pineda and her husband Jose Luis Abarca, out of fears that the students would disrupt an event she was hosting. After stopping and shooting at the bus convoy carrying the students, Iguala police are alleged to have handed the students over to an organized crime group linked to the political couple, which authorities say killed the students and burned their bodies.
News that the prosecutor has provided insufficient proof of her involvement in organized crime or the forced disappearance of the students has dealt a serious blow to the state's case that Pineda and Abarca were the masterminds behind the crime.
Proceso magazine reported that the court lifted the arrest order on April 24, after determining that the process which resulted in her detention was flawed, as she was not allowed to present a defense. There will now be a judicial review, which may result in Pineda being freed from prison.
The magazine further reported that her formal arrest was secured by the state only after repeated failed attempts to have her jailed.
Pineda was first arrested Nov. 4, with the attorney general’s office requesting that she be held in preventative detention for 40 days, which was granted and then extended for a further 20 days.
During those 60 days, the office of the attorney general sought on three separate occasions to have her formally detained on charges stemming from her alleged involvement with the disappearance of the students, but was twice denied due to a lack of evidence.
Courts only granted the order on the third occasion, when she was not permitted to present a defense. She was ultimately held on charges of money laundering not related to the forced disappearance of the 43 students.
The Mexican attorney general has also insisted that Pineda has links with organized crime in the state of Guerrero, specifically with the Guerreros Unidos cartel, which is suspected of kidnapping the 43 students.
Prosecutors in her case point to the fact that two of her brothers have a long history of involvement with organized crime. Pineda's defense team sustain she has not had contact with her brothers for years.
The office of the attorney general also sought to have Pineda detained for her alleged links to organized crime, but courts once again denied the request due to a lack of evidence.
Pineda and Abarca still face charges of attempted bribery, which stem from the allegation that they sought to bribe their arresting officers. However, that charge is also disputed and currently in the process of appeal. According to an investigation by Proceso, the police's own records are inconsistent, with different records showing that the pair were arrested in three different locations.
With questions also swirling around the state's case against Abarca, the case of the forcibly disappeared students could be left without any prime suspects.
The families of the disappeared students have long disputed the official version of events put forward by the office of the attorney general, pointing to evidence that federal and state officials were likely involved in the forced disappearance of their children.