By Marjie Lundstrom -- Bee Columnist
Published 2:15 am PDT Saturday, June 12, 2004
Who will fight for Dawn Marie Wilson?
For a while this week, it appeared her long and terrifying ordeal might be over. It seemed almost
certain the 49-year-old San Diego woman sentenced to five years in a Mexican prison for carrying
prescription drugs would finally win her freedom.
She did not.
In a stunning development, a Mexican appeals court rejected her challenge - her last stop in that
country's judicial system, effectively sealing her five-year prison term.
So I ask now: How can
we abandon this woman, this sea-loving adventurer caught up in an international nightmare? How can we let most of our elected officials ignore the plight of a U.S. citizen and California native, locked in a filthy federal prison in Ensenada with a broken hand and a withering spirit?
Who will get to work and get this woman home?
"Five years for this is just ridiculous, especially in a foreign country," said U.S. Rep. Bob Filner, D-San Diego, the sole elected official who has personally gotten involved in the case and tried to help Wilson, who doesn't even live in his district. "Our government ought to be there arguing for her.
"It's just unacceptable our own citizens are not getting that kind of advocacy."
Wilson was arrested in April 2003 after Mexican police happened to stop her as she walked along a road in Ensenada following a minor traffic accident. Wilson, who had been living on a boat in Mexico with her fiance, Terry Kennedy, was carrying a three-month supply of Dilantin to control her seizures, she and Kennedy have steadfastly maintained.
Though she had a U.S. prescription, she stocked up on the Mexican version of the drug at a Tijuana pharmacy because it was much cheaper - and she would be adequately supplied for the weeks at sea aboard the couple's 45-foot trimaran.
When police stopped her, they also found three bottles of diabetes medication she had agreed to deliver to her ex-husband. She was not carrying any prescriptions.
What followed is a dizzying account of corrupt police, stolen credit cards, a Mexican lawyer who appeared to put on no defense and a so-called confession written in Spanish she says she was coerced into signing after being told it was for her release.
The bottom line: A woman who never had a single previous brush with the law was slapped with a five-year federal prison term for illegal possession of drugs. According to her new lawyer, her crime was in carrying a large supply without a Mexican doctor's prescription.
Dawn Wilson is apparently being made "an example," as some Mexican jurisdictions crack down on Americans and other foreigners who travel into the country to buy cheap prescription drugs.
The U.S. State Department has strongly warned against this, saying in an advisory that "Mexican public health laws concerning controlled medication are unclear and often enforced selectively."
But Kennedy felt sure the absurdity of locking up his "lady" for five years over anti-seizure medication would come through to the judges, and she would be set free. The hearing this week was, judicially anyway, her last chance for freedom. As of Friday, the ruling hadn't been finalized - "There still is a chance," her attorney wrote Kennedy - but the outlook is grim.
Kennedy is devastated.
"And all over what?" he said, his voice breaking. "She didn't try to assassinate President Fox. She had more prescription drugs than they say is allowed in Mexico. It's a joke, it's a damn sick joke.
"There are heavy-duty drug dealers coming and going out of that prison with impunity. And she's sitting there because she's an American."
She's also sitting there with a broken hand, smashed in a prison baseball game. With spotty medical care at the federal prison in Ensenada - she must buy her own water and other supplies - she has wrapped her crippled right hand in a T-shirt and remains in considerable pain, he said. She had to pay for her own X-ray.
And, he said, she is not receiving her anti-seizure medication - despite a letter last year from the U.S. consul general in Mexico to California Sen. Barbara Boxer, assuring the senator that "the medication is being distributed to her as prescribed."
The letter from Consul General David C. Stewart also told Boxer that "the Consulate has no authority to interfere in the Mexican judicial system."
That's pretty much what Kennedy's and Wilson's supporters have been hearing from elected officials for over a year now - a steady diet of it's-not-my- department and we-can't-intervene.
"It's sickening," said friend and fellow boater Vern Clinton of Auburn, who met Wilson in Mexico in the early 1980s and has constructed a Web site devoted to her case (www.dawnwilson.com). "I don't think there's a lot of votes in helping someone who's been arrested on drug charges in Mexico."
Since her arrest, Kennedy alone has written countless letters and e-mails to public officials, appealing repeatedly to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and first lady Maria Shriver. ("I figured maybe she could put an elbow in his ribs," he said.)
He has contacted embassy officials, both U.S. senators from California, numerous congressional representatives, Amnesty International - even President Bush.
I called some of these elected officials this week about her case, getting pretty much the same response Kennedy got (when he got one): It's out of my hands. It's Mexico's case.
A spokesman for U.S. Rep. Susan Davis, D-San Diego, who represents Kennedy and Wilson when they reside in California, said, "The problem is, it's a Mexican issue dealing with their laws."
A Schwarzenegger spokeswoman said the Governor's Office doesn't have sufficient detail about the case, and that this kind of matter is more typically the province of the U.S. State Department and Embassy.
A spokesman for Sen. Dianne Feinstein dug out the correspondence from last year and said, "We are reviewing the case."
Only Filner said flat-out he would actively fight on. He has heard these stories before about Americans' treatment in Mexico, and has had some success in intervening. It was Filner who helped the couple find a new Mexican legal team after their first lawyer collected their money and bungled the case. He began working his network, in this country and in Mexico. In March, he wrote to Secretary of State Colin Powell specifically about Wilson but doesn't recall getting any response.
The U.S. government's inaction on this only makes him "want to fight harder," he said.
But what Wilson needs most, he said, is publicity - the kind of scrutiny that gets the attention of Mexican authorities. He's considering paying a visit to her in prison, which might generate that crucial media swirl.
"Somehow, when there's that kind of publicity, the Mexican system works a little differently," said Filner, who initiated a similar effort on behalf of a jailed constituent, who was suddenly freed despite his case also being "closed."
This is a case we cannot abandon. For those of us who believe her story, it is unacceptable to let her be "an example." It is unreasonable, and it is unjust.
Pressure those in power. Write, call, e-mail, fax. Give Filner his leverage, his perfect storm of righteous American indignation and publicity.
Let's bring Dawn Wilson home.