Criminal Justice

Judge Rules for Release of Haiti Missionaries

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Updated: A judge ruled today that 10 American Baptist missionaries held in Haiti for trial should be released, according to news reports.

The missionaries have been detained on kidnapping charges since they were arrested Jan. 29 for attempting to take 33 children across the border to an orphanage they were establishing in the Dominican Republic.

Magistrate Bernard Saint-Vil finished questioning the Americans on Wednesday, signed the request for their release Thursday afternoon, and sent it to the prosecutor’s office, Reuters reported. The prosecutor could appeal if the judge recommended dropping charges, but the judge has the last say, said Gary Lassade, an attorney for one of the missionaries, told the Associated Press on Wednesday.

Saint-Vil told Reuters that the 10 “can go directly to the airport if they want and leave, but they should provide a guarantee of representation if further questions need to be asked.”

The New York Times said the Americans must now wait and see whether the prosecutors accept the recommendation.

Aviol Fleurant, a Haitian lawyer who represents the 10 Baptist missionaries, told the Wall Street Journal in a phone interview Wednesday that Saint-Vil had been convinced by their line of defense. “People who want to make good can’t be prosecuted like criminals.”

The missionaries, most from Idaho, have maintained they had permission from relatives of most of the children to take them to the orphanage. But Laura Silsby, the group’s leader, had reportedly been warned by a Haitian diplomat that she could face arrest if she didn’t have the proper paperwork in order.

Silsby had long planned to open the orphanage, but accelerated her plans after Haiti’s devastating earthquake last month.

Updated at 2:33 p.m. to include coverage of the judge’s ruling.

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