A 73-year-old woman who was jailed for more than two weeks after authorities accused her of looting was released Friday evening. Merlene Maten said the first thing she wanted to do was visit her 80-year-old husband.
Police arrested Maten the day after Hurricane Katrina on charges she took $63.50 (Ђ51.87) in goods from a looted deli. Her bail had been set at $50,000 (Ђ40,840). Family and eyewitnesses insist she only had gone to her car to get some sausage to eat when officers cuffed her in frustration, unable to catch younger looters at a nearby store.
Despite intervention from the nation's largest senior lobby, volunteer lawyers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and even a private attorney, the family fought a futile battle for 16 days to get her freed. Then, hours after her plight was featured in an Associated Press story, a local judge on Thursday ordered Maten freed on her own recognizance.
Maten still must face the looting charge at a court hearing in October. But the family, armed with several witnesses, intends to prove she was wrongly arrested. Defense attorney Daniel Becnel, family members and witnesses said police snared Maten in the parking lot of a hotel after floodwaters swamped her New Orleans home. She had paid for her room with a credit card and followed authorities' instructions to pack extra food, they said.
Police Capt. Steve Carraway said Wednesday that Maten was arrested in the checkout area of a small store next to police headquarters. The arrest report is short and assigns the value of goods Maten is alleged to have taken at $63.50 (Ђ51.87). The items were not identified.
Christine Bishop, the owner of the Check In Check Out deli, said that she was angry that looters had damaged her store, but that she would not want anyone charged with a crime if the person had simply tried to get food to survive, AP reports.