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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    10 American missionaries charged with kidnapping in Haiti

    PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The 10 Americans accused of trying to sneak 33 Haitian children out of the earthquake-ravaged country were charged with child kidnapping and criminal association Thursday and returned to jail to await trial.

    The Baptist missionaries from Idaho appeared behind closed doors for more than two hours before a judge determined there was sufficient evidence to proceed with criminal charges, saidEdwin F. Coq Jr., one of their attorneys.

    Coq described a somber scene inside the courtroom, adding that before the questioning began the group members bowed their heads and prayed together.

    After the hearing, police officers escorted the Americans, some of whom hid their faces beneath jackets, into an awaiting police vehicle.

    Laura Silsby, 40, the trip’s organizer, sat silently, refusing to respond to questions shouted by reporters through the windows. Speaking from jail to reporters earlier in the week, Silsby said, “”God wanted us to come here to help children; we are convinced of that.””

    Many group members attend Central Valley Baptist Church in Meridian, Idaho, which strongly disputed the portrayal of the Americans by some in Haiti as would-be human traffickers looking to take advantage of the chaos that ensued after the earthquake.

    The case has been prime fodder for Haitians and the hordes of international news media groups that descended on the impoverished Caribbean island nation after the 7.0 earthquake Jan. 12 that killed more than 150,000 people.

    A bus carrying the 10 Americans and the children was stopped by authorities at the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic Jan. 29. At that time group members said the children were orphans and that the group’s intent was to provide them with shelter and care. They could not provide any official documents proving legal custody of the children, many of whom later were found not to be orphans.

    The children, ranging in age from 2 to 12, this week were being cared for at a child-care center in Port-au-Prince.

    Parents of some of the children from the badly damaged village of Callebas told The Associated Press they willingly had handed over their children to the Baptists because they were unable to care for the kids themselves.

    Coq said Haitian law allows prosecutors up to three months to prepare a case for trial. He reiterated earlier statements that only Silsby knew of the plan to take children out of the country and that the remaining nine missionaries should have been set free. He expressed confidence that Silsby and the others would eventually be cleared of the charges.

    Each kidnapping count carries a possible sentence of five to 15 years in prison and each count of criminal association carries a sentence of three to nine years, according to news reports.

    Coq also tamped down persistent speculation that the group would be transferred to the U.S. to face charges, saying in Creole, “”Right now, they are being fully tried in Haiti. It is up to the Haitian authorities to judge them.””

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    (c) 2010, Los Angeles Times.

    Visit the Los Angeles Times on the Internet at http://www.latimes.com/

    Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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