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article imageU.S. Baptists charged with child kidnapping in Haiti

By Chris Dade     Feb 4, 2010 in Crime
Ten members of a U.S. missionary group arrested in Haiti last week were formally charged with child kidnapping and criminal association today. The group was detained after trying to cross the border into the Dominican Republic with 33 Haitian children.
According to the London Times the 10 Baptists were taken to a jail in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince following the hearing in a closed court.
Most of the group are from a church in the Northwestern state of Idaho in the U.S.
Haiti's Deputy Prosecutor, Jean Ferge Joseph, told the 10 defendants an investigative judge will now consider their case. If convicted of kidnapping, the missionaries face between five and 15 years in jail, with CBS News reporting the criminal association charges carry three- to nine-year sentences if guilty verdicts are passed.
The judge dealing with the cases could take as long as three months to reach his decisions.
Edwin Coq, the Haitian lawyer representing all 10 of the Americans, claims nine of those charged on Thursday had no knowledge of what CBS News describes as the "scheme" and did not know the paperwork for the children was not in order.
The group of 10 is made up of five men and five women.
Mission leader Laura Silsby, who reportedly waved and had a slight smile on her face when she left the court, appears to be the individual under closest scrutiny in the case. She confessed to the group not having the appropriate authority to take the children to the neighboring Dominican Republic, yet has insisted the group was simply trying to help.
Haiti and the Dominican Republic share the Caribbean island of Hispaniola.
There appears to be a possibility the remaining nine defendants could be released from custody while their case is being considered.
Their lawyer in the Dominican Republic, Jorge Puello, indicated prior to the charges being laid he had a plane on standby to collect nine of the group and fly them to Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic.
Furthermore it seems it is still possible the missionaries may be returned to the U.S. to stand trial.
U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said at the moment "the matter rests within the Haitian judicial system" and the U.S. "respects that," although the U.S. and Haitian governments will continue to discuss the matter.
It has been established since the missionaries were arrested that not all the children traveling with them were orphans. The London Times says some of the children's parents have admitted they handed their children over to the group as they felt they would enjoy a better life outside Haiti, a country recognized as the poorest in the Western Hemisphere even before the magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck on Jan. 12.
CBS News quotes the director of one orphanage in Port-au-Prince as saying he refused to hand over any children in his care to the group. He advised them their attempts to take 100 children out of Haiti were illegal.
Hal Nungester, founder of the HIS Home for Children, said:
They had no paperwork. They had no authorization from the U.S. government, from the Haitian government, or from anyone involved. They were just taking kids. That fits right in with what I would classify as child trafficking.
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