The last time I spoke with 24-year old Shohn Huckabee was June 2011, and he was in a cramped Juarez jail cell waiting for his final appeal to be decided in a federal court in Sinaloa.
Nearly two years earlier, Mexican soldiers had stopped Huckabee and his friend Carlos Quijas as they were driving toward the international bridge to cross back into El Paso. Huckabee had just had his truck repaired in Juarez. The soldiers said Huckabee and Quijas were carrying two suitcases of marijuana in their truck. Huckabee says the Mexican military planted the drugs and then tortured them. The men got five years in jail.
Shohn’s father Kevin had worked tirelessly to prove that his son was innocent. He’d lobbied every government official on both sides of the border and generated international attention on his son’s case in the media.
Kevin would go at least three times a week to visit his son in jail and keep up his spirits, and deliver him food and clean clothes. This was not an easy journey to make during Juarez’s darkest days when the murder rate shot up like mercury in August. The day I visited with Kevin and Shohn in June at the prison, I was impressed with Shohn’s quiet maturity—he seemed a full decade older than his 24 years.
A few weeks later, Shohn would lose his Mexican federal appeal in Sinaloa. Shortly thereafter, a deadly prison riot erupted in the Juarez jail resulting in the death of 17 inmates. Shohn survived the riot. The Huckabees finally got a break when Shohn was transferred into U.S. custody three months ago. Last Friday he was finally set free. The Department of Justice’s Parole Commission determined that Shohn had been tortured while he was imprisoned. And so his sentence was reduced from five years to time served—26 months.
His friend Quijas has been transferred to La Tuna federal prison in Anthony, Texas. But has yet to be released.
I reached Kevin Huckabee this morning at his home near El Paso. “Life’s not on hold anymore,” he told me. “This will be the first Christmas we’ve had in two years.”
Kevin Huckabee said that they’re not done trying to clear his son’s name. They’re considering taking his case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Costa Rica. “Our main interest is to expose the corruption and torture of people incarcerated in Mexico,” he said.
Inmates were frequently tortured and beaten. Kevin said his son witnessed Julian Leyzaola, Juarez’s police chief brutally beat an inmate with a 2-by-4 after the riot in July. Inmates were also beaten by the federal police. At one point, inmates phoned the Chihuahua Human Rights Commission to come and investigate, but the representatives were denied entry to the prison, Kevin said.
The impunity and the brutality inside the prison still haunt Kevin and his son. “So much happened,” he said. “You can’t forget it.”