L.A. public defender Eyvin Hernandez freed from Venezuela in prisoner swap

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Eyvin Hernandez, an attorney with the Los Angeles County public defender’s office, was one of 10 Americans released from Venezuelan custody Wednesday as part of a prisoner exchange.

Hernandez’s family, who had worked to secure his release since he was first arrested in March 2022, confirmed the news in a social media post.

“We were notified this morning that Eyvin was on his way home — an early Christmas present for our family,” they wrote.

Hernandez, 45, had been vacationing in Colombia and was accompanying a friend to the Colombia-Venezuela border when he was intercepted on March 31, 2022, and turned over to Venezuelan security forces, according to his family. Those who seized the public defender have been described alternately as a gang, a paramilitary group or official Venezuelan personnel.

Hernandez had been held on charges of conspiracy and criminal association, which carries a sentence of up to 16 years in prison in Venezuela. He was kept at a maximum-security military prison, where his family alleges he endured torturous living conditions and abuse.

“Our first priority is to ensure that he gets the medical support he needs so that [he] can recover from his time in captivity,” the family wrote on social media. “He will talk about his experience when he is ready.”

L.A. elected officials had advocated for Hernandez’s release, including Rep. Sydney Kamlager-Dove, who said it “is a miracle that Eyvin is back with his family and friends at last.”

“I know they are embracing him closely today,” Kamlager-Dove (D-Los Angeles) said in a statement. “The Bring Eyvin Home Coalition’s tireless work and the work of the State Department made it possible for this angel to make it safely back to the City of Angels.”

L.A. County Public Defender Ricardo García said Hernandez’s release was hard-fought and included Hernandez sending a personal letter to President Biden to plead for help.

“On behalf of all 1,100 members of the public defender’s office, I want to extend our gratitude to the administration and everyone who has fought so hard to make this day a reality,” García said in a statement. “We are looking forward to the time when, after he’s had time to recover and rest, Evyin will return to his rightful place as an advocate in court for the indigent and vulnerable of Los Angeles County.”

Hernandez was released along with nine other Americans detained in Venezuela, including former Green Berets Luke Denman and Airan Berry, according to the Associated Press. In return, the United States released Colombian businessman Alex Saab, a close ally of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.

The deal also included the suspension of several economic sanctions against Venezuela, as well as the return of Leonard Francis, a fugitive defense contractor also known as “Fat Leonard” who orchestrated a major U.S. Navy bribery scandal.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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