Americans Accused Of Trafficking Haiti Children Appear In Court



****NEW UPDATE**** 3:40 p.m.

10 Americans suspected of trafficking in Haitian childrenwere charged with child kidnapping and criminal association on Thursday, their lawyer said.
Coq said that under Haiti's legal system, there won't be an open trial, but a judge will consider the evidence and could render a verdict in about three months.

Coq said a Haitian prosecutor told him the Americans were charged because they had the children in their possession. No one from the Haitian government could be reached immediately for comment. Each kidnapping count carries a possible sentence of five to 15 years in prison. Each criminal association count has a potential sentence of three to nine years.

****PREVIOUS STORY****

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — A Haitian prosecutor investigating the case of 10 Americans suspected of trafficking in Haitian children whom they had claimed were earthquake orphans was expected to decide later Thursday whether to pursue criminal charges or drop the matter.

At about noon on Thursday, two vehicles carrying the Americans pulled up to the city’s white central courthouse, where they were met by a crush of reporters there to cover a case that has become a flashpoint for Haiti’s fears of foreign encroachment in the aftermath of the Jan. 12 earthquake.

“We’re just trusting God for a positive outcome,” one of them said as she waited to be taken into the court building, where a prosecutor was expected to question the Americans.

The detainees, most of them members of a Baptist congregation from Idaho, were not in handcuffs.

Edwin Coq, a lawyer for the Baptists, said that nine of his 10 clients were “completely innocent,” but added that “if the judiciary were to keep one, it could be the leader of the group.” He appeared to be referring to Laura Silsby, who helped organize the mission to Haiti and has spoken for the Americans since they were detained last Friday.

“I’m trying to get them all free but I don’t yet know what’s going to happen,” Mr. Coq said in an interview at his earthquake-damaged law offices in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince.

The Americans were arrested near the border as they tried to take 33 Haitian children to what they had said was an orphanage in the Dominican Republic, where they would stay in a “loving Christian home-like environment” and be eligible for adoption, according to a Web site for their orphanage.

The Americans, their lawyers and members of their churches have said they are innocent of any wrongdoing, and said the imbroglio was a huge misunderstanding. In an interview earlier this week, Ms. Silsby said the group had come to Haiti to rescue children orphaned by the earthquake, and that “our hearts were in the right place.”

But several of the 33 children had at least one living parent, and some of those parents said the Baptists had promised simply to educate the youngsters in the Dominican Republic, and said the children would be able to return to Haiti to visit their families.

Some Haitian leaders have called the Americans kidnappers, but no criminal charges have been filed. Several of the Americans were questioned by the judge investigating the case on Tuesday.

Since the Americans were arrested, Haitian judicial officials have left open the possibility that the Americans could be returned to the United States for possible trial, sparing Haiti’s crippled justice system a high-profile criminal prosecution fraught with diplomatic and political land mines.


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