Haiti Judge To Free U.S. Missionaries, Reuters Reports
(AP/Huffington Post) PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- The judge weighing whether 10 U.S. missionaries should go on trial for trying to take a busload of children out of Haiti was expected to issue his decision soon, a defense attorney said Wednesday.
Judge Bernard Saint-Vil finished questioning the Americans and the next step would be to issue a recommendation to the prosecutor, something that could happen Thursday, lawyer Gary Lassade said.
Reuters is reporting, citing a judicial source, that the judge has decided to release the missionaries:
The order will be to release them," the source, who asked not to be named, told Reuters. The decision has not yet been made public.
"One thing an investigating judge seeks in a criminal investigation is criminal intentions on the part of the people involved and there is nothing that shows that criminal intention on the part of the Americans," the source said.
The prosecutor has the right to appeal if the judge recommends that charges be dropped, but the judge has the final say and could issue his decision as soon as Thursday, Lassade said.
"The judge will not take a decision before he sends his finding to the prosecutor," Lassade told The Associated Press.
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.
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 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.