Haitian judge frees eight Americans, holds two – Reuters

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PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) – Eight American missionaries left a Haitian jail on Wednesday after a judge signed an order freeing them, but two of their colleagues were detained for further questioning on charges of kidnapping children.
Laura Silsby, leader of the 10 U.S. missionaries accused of kidnapping children, leave a Judicial Police office in Port-au-Prince February 10, 2010. REUTERS/St Felix Evens
The 10 Americans, most of whom are members of a Baptist Church in Idaho, were arrested last month on charges that they tried to take 33 Haitian children out of the country without proper documentation after the devastating January 12 earthquake in Haiti.
The judge found no evidence of criminal intent among the eight who were freed. But he ordered group leader Laura Silsby and another woman, Charisa Coulter, held for further questioning about their previous trips to Haiti.
The Americans were released one by one and were headed to the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince.
Silas Thompson, a 19-year-old American in a T-shirt and baseball cap, was the first to leave the jail cell. Asked how he felt, he replied “pretty good.”
His father, Paul Thompson, was next to leave, followed by the rest of the eight.
Silsby and other members of the group of missionaries have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, saying they had only wanted to help orphans left destitute by the quake.
But they had no Haitian identity or exit papers for the children. Many had living parents who acknowledged turning the children over to the missionaries in the belief they would have better care in the hands of the Americans.
The Americans were arrested on January 29, 17 days after the magnitude 7 earthquake that killed at least 212,000 people. The case has distracted Haitian authorities at a time when they are working with foreign aid groups to feed and care for hundreds of thousands of homeless quake victims sheltering in makeshift camps scattered across the ruined capital Port-au-Prince.
Haiti’s secretary of state for penal affairs, Claudy Gassant, said the U.S. government had allowed the Haitian judicial system to take its course.
“As secretary of state for penal affairs, I can ensure that light will be shed on this affair and the rights of the Americans will be respected,” Gassant said. “I commend the U.S. government for not interfering with the ongoing judicial proceedings in Haiti about the Americans.”
(For story on Haiti reconstruction, click on
Additional reporting by Pascal Fletcher; Editing by Jane Sutton and Todd Eastham
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
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