A Haitian judge has decided to release 10 American missionaries accused of kidnapping children in Haiti, Reuters news agency reported Wednesday afternoon, siting a “judicial source”.
The judge decided the Americans had no “criminal intentions” when they tried to take the children out of Haiti, according to Reuters’ report.
A defense lawyer for the Americans, however, tells The Associated Press that the judge deciding whether the Baptist group should face trial for attempting to take a busload of children out of the country is probably ready to make his ruling, but has not yet decided what that ruling will be.
Judge Bernard Saint-Vil finished questioning the Americans on Wednesday and now must transmit his recommendation to the prosecutor, lawyer Gary Lassade toldd the AP.
The prosecutor could appeal if the judge recommended dropping charges, but the judge has the last say, the attorney told The Associated Press on Wednesday. He said he expected the judge to issue that final decision Thursday.
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“The judge will not take a decision before he sends his finding to the prosecutor,” Lassade told the AP.
The Americans, most from an Idaho Baptist group, were charged last week with child kidnapping and criminal association after being arrested Jan. 29 trying to take 33 children, ages 2 to 12, across the border to an orphanage they were trying to set up in the Dominican Republic.
The day after the group’s arrest, its leader, Laura Silsby of Meridian, Idaho, told the AP that the children were obtained either from orphanages or from distant relatives. She said only children who were found not to have living parents or relatives who could care for them might be put up for adoption.
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However, at least 20 of the children are from a single village and have living parents. Some of the parents told the AP they willingly turned over their children to the missionaries on the promise the Americans would educate them and allow relatives to visit.
Saint-Vil questioned at least two of the parents Wednesday as well as the 10 Americans.
In a brief conversation afterward through cell bars in the stuffy, grimy jail where they have been held, the missionaries refused to be interviewed by the AP.
“We’ve said all we’re going to say for now. We don’t want to talk now,” Silsby said. “Maybe tomorrow.”
The women were held separately from the men, who shared their cell with nine Haitian men, some of whom played checkers on the cell floor.
“We will not talk unless our lawyer is present,” said Paul Thompson, pastor 전주 안마 of the Eastside Baptist Church in Twin Falls, Idaho. Lassade represents Thompson’s cousin, Jim Allen of Amarillo, Texas.
A Dallas attorney for Allen, Hiram Sasser, told the AP that his client was recruited just 48 hours before the group left last month for the Dominican Republic on what Silsby termed an emergency rescue mission.
“He did not know many of the other people who were on the mission trip, or what other people were going to do, or about paperwork,” Sasser said.
Silsby had decided last summer to create an orphanage in the Dominican Republic and in November registered the nonprofit New Life Children’s Refuge foundation in Idaho.
After Haiti’s catastrophic Jan. 12 earthquake she accelerated the plan and recruited her fellow missionaries. Silsby told the AP she was only interested in saving suffering children.
She told the AP after her arrest, however, that she did not have all the Haitian papers required to take the children out of the country.
A Dominican diplomat who said she visited him the same day the missionaries tried to take the children out of the country told the AP that he warned her that without those papers she could be arrested.