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Judge recommends release of American missionaries

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Haitian judge recommends that 10 American missionaries detained in Haiti be released.

By The Associated Press Modified: February 11, 2010 at 12:52 pm •  Published: February 11, 2010
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — The Haitian judge deciding whether 10 U.S. missionaries should face trial on charges of trying to take a busload of children out of the country said Thursday he will recommend that they be released provisionally while the investigation continues.

Judge Bernard Saint-Vil must now send his recommendation to the prosecutor, who may agree or object, but the judge has the final authority to decide whether they stay in custody or go free.

Saint-Vil said he was making his recommendation a day after questioning the Americans and hearing testimony from parents who said they willingly gave their children to the Baptist missionaries, believing they would educate and care for them.

“After listening to the families, I see the possibility that they can all be released,” Saint-Vil told The Associated Press. “I am recommending that all 10 Americans be released.”

Later, Saint-Vil said he would recommend provisional freedom for the detainees while the investigation continues. But it wasn't clear whether their possible release means they would be allowed to leave Haiti, or what implications the judge's decision could have on whether the charges may be dropped.

By midday Thursday, Saint-Vil had yet to deliver his formal recommendation to the prosecutor.

Gary Lassade, an attorney for one of the Americans, said he expects the judge will recommend the case be dropped — though the prosecutor could also appeal that ruling.

The Americans, most from an Idaho Baptist group, were charged last week with child kidnapping and criminal association after being arrested Jan. 29 while 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 following day, group 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 let relatives visit.

Drew Ham, assistant pastor at Central Valley Baptist Church in Meridian, said Thursday that the judge's recommendation is encouraging but it's too soon to celebrate with the detainees still in custody.

“It's a good sign,” Ham told the AP.

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