- The Washington Times - Friday, February 12, 2010

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti | 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.

Judge 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,” Judge Saint-Vil told the Associated Press. “I am recommending that all 10 Americans be released.”

Later, Judge 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, Judge 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.

Ms. 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. Ms. Silsby told the AP she was only interested in saving suffering children. She said 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 said he warned her that without those papers she could be arrested.

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