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.
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
“It’s a good sign,” Ham told the AP. “But we still don’t have
confirmation of their release.”
On Wednesday, from behind cell bars in the stuffy, grimy jail
where they have been held, the missionaries refused to be
“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
“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,
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
“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
A Dominican diplomat told the AP he warned her that without
those papers she could be arrested.