LA public defender released by Venezuela during prisoner swap

A Los Angeles public defender is finally home after being released by Venezuelan authorities.

Eyvin Hernandez is one of 10 American prisoners who were released in exchange for a close ally of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro… Alex Saab.

"I don't know if he's landed yet but my understanding is that he's on a plane to Texas from Caracas and I can tell you there is no better news today. This is the best I've felt in a long time. It's incredibly huge because all of us have been pulling for him," said LA County Public Defender Ricardo Garcia.

Over the last 21 months or so, ever since LA County Deputy Public Defender Eyvin Hernandez was unlawfully arrested in Venezuela while on vacation, accused of being a spy, there have been demonstrations, vigils and press conferences in Southern California to demand his release.

Public Defender Garcia described Hernandez' conditions as horrible. 

RELATED: US, Venezuela swap prisoners: Maduro ally for 10 Americans, plus fugitive contractor ‘Fat Leonard’

"What I'm told is that it was a basement-like holding area. He was sleep-deprived, many times by light, limited food, limited communication... really just as close to isolation as you can be," Garcia told FOX 11. 

The release is being called the best Christmas present by congressional leaders leading the charge. Congresswoman Sydney Kamlager-Dove called it "... a miracle that Eyvin is back with his family and friends at last."

Congresswoman Young Kim said, "Thank you to the teams at the State Department Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs and the National Security Council for making this a reality."

After the prisoner swap President Biden issued a statement saying, "reuniting wrongfully detained Americans with their loved ones has been a priority for my Administration since day one."

But, those supporting Hernandez say his unlawful arrest is wrong for a guy whose life has been all about helping people get a fair defense.

"That he's going to be home before the holidays is an incredible treat for his family and an amazing blessing," Garcia added.

The Hernandez family issued the following statement:

"On behalf of Eyvin Hernandez, his family and friends, we are happy to confirm that he has been released by Venezuela and will shortly touch down on U.S. soil. He has been wrongfully detained since March of 2022. For over 21 months, he has endured horrible conditions and abuse. We were notified this morning that Eyvin was on his way home. It was literally an early Christmas present for our family. Our first priority is to ensure that he gets the medical support he needs so that he can recover from his time in captivity. He will talk about his experience when he is ready. For now, we want to thank everyone who helped obtain Eyvin's release. We thank President Biden for his leadership in agreeing to the deal that brought Eyvin and the others home to us. We also thank Secretary Blinken, Assistant Secretary Brian Nichols, Senior Director Juan Gonzalez, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, and Hostage Envoy Roger Carstens, all of whom played important roles in bringing Eyvin home to us. We are grateful for Eyvin's tireless advocates and their dedicated staff, such as Representatives Kamlager, Kim, McCaul, Castro, Meeks, and Barragan. We thank Eyvin's home-state senators, Senators Padilla and Butler and the late Senator Feinstein, along with others. We are thankful for many advocates who helped us spread the word of Eyvin's detention, such as the National Association for Public Defense, the Richardson Center, Dolores Huerta, Isaac Bryan, Holly Mitchell, the Bring Our Families Home Campaign, Hostage US, and the UCLA School of Law. We have so many others to thank for this welcome news of our dear Eyvin coming home to us today. Even as we celebrate Eyvin’s release, we remember all of the Americans who remain wrongfully detained abroad and we hold close to our hearts a wish that they are all returned to their families as soon as possible."

Among the Americans behind bars in Venezuela are two former Green Berets, Luke Denman and Airan Berry, who were involved in an attempt to oust Maduro in 2019. Also detained are Jerrel Kenemore and Joseph Cristella, who were accused of entering Venezuela illegally from Colombia. More recently, Venezuela arrested Savoi Wright, a 38-year-old California businessman.

In exchange for the release of Americans, the United States agreed to release Alex Saab, a close ally of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. Saab had been awaiting trial on money laundering charges.