Parents of Utah man imprisoned in Venezuela "won't give up"

Friday marks one year since an American newlywed, Josh Holt, became a prisoner of Venezuela. The case has now become a focus for the Trump administration. Police in Caracas arrested Holt last summer on weapons charges. The Utah native was also accused of trying to undermine Venezuela's government.

Jason and Laurie Holt say their 25-year-old son learned Spanish as a Mormon missionary and looked forward to a life with his new Venezuelan bride. Instead, they say he's become a hostage and a political pawn, reports CBS News correspondent Tony Dokoupil. 

"Please, Lord, just bring him home. Please let this end," Laurie said. "Put my family back together."

The Holts aren't sure they can bear another year of worry over the safety of their imprisoned son.

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Josh Holt with his wife, Thamara Candelo

"For a mother, you can't even explain how much it hurts," Laurie said.

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Parents Jason and Laurie Holt

CBS News

"I would trade places in a heartbeat with him. You know, I've lived my life. Let him come back and live his now," Jason said.

They were initially optimistic when they learned their son had been arrested last summer.

"I literally thought, 'OK, just sit down. We'll get him home in the next couple weeks,'" Laurie said. "He's innocent. There's no way that they can look at this kid, look in his background and find anything that he's done."

Jason and Laurie said Holt traveled to Venezuela to marry Thamara Candelo, a woman he had met online.

"I think at that age, you still haven't experienced life yet. And you do things for love that maybe somebody at our age wouldn't do," Laurie said.

"He just went down there to marry his love of his life and start his own life," Jason said.

But about two weeks after the wedding, Venezuelan police raided the apartment Holt shared with his new wife, claiming to find an AK-47 and a hand grenade. Police arrested the couple.

Later on state television, Interior Minister Gustavo Gonzalez called Holt "a gringo" and linked him to unspecified attempts by the U.S. to undermine embattled President Nicolás Maduro.

Laurie and Jason said that doesn't sound like the son they know.

"He's a vibrant kid. Always had a smile on his face, lights the room up. He's a comedian," Jason said.

"That was our best memories of sitting around our island just cracking jokes. ... That has not been something that we have done literally in a year because... there's nothing to crack a joke about," Laurie said.                               

As the months rolled by, they said Holt grew sicker in prison, dropping more than 50 pounds. In a letter, he described a horrible place where "demons stroll the hallways."

"He's been angry at God. He's been angry at our government," Laurie said. "He's very depressed. He has at times been suicidal."

In January, Laurie issued a plea to the White House, and the family has been pleased with the Trump administration's interest in the case.

"I can't get any higher than what I've gotten in our government. I literally have reached the top and cannot go any further," Laurie said.

Still, they're calling on the president to do more.

"Please push harder. Push harder because we need this to be over. We need him to be home. We need to be whole as a family again," Laurie said.

The Holts also had a message for their son:

Jason said he wanted Holt to know "how much we love him."

"I love you, buddy," Laurie said, crying. "And we won't give up."

Holt's wife, Candelo, is also in prison. Candelo's mother, who lives in Venezuela, said she believes her daughter and son-in-law were framed. CBS News called the Venezuelan government's press office in Caracas for comment on this story. The operator transferred us to someone but no one ever picked up the phone.