Lawyer Sees Ruling On Jailed Missionaries Thursday

Published February 11, 2010

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) -- The Haitian judge deciding whether 10 U.S. missionaries should face trial for attempting to take a busload of children out of the country is probably ready to make his ruling, a defense lawyer said.

Judge Bernard Saint-Vil finished questioning the Americans on Wednesday and now must transmit his recommendation to the prosecutor, lawyer Gary Lassade said.

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.

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.

Written by <P class="ap-story-p">By FRANK BAJAK, Associated Press Writer</P>

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