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2 Baptist volunteers still in Haiti jail

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (BP)–Two weeks after their eight team members were released and allowed to return to the United States, two female Baptist volunteers remain in a Haiti jail, optimistic they’ll be freed soon but still awaiting the final word from the judge overseeing the case.

Laura Silsby and Charisa Coulter, members of Central Valley Baptist Church in Meridian, Idaho, have been in jail since Jan. 29 when they and their team members were arrested on charges of child kidnapping and criminal association when they tried to take 33 children out of the earthquake-ravaged country and to a makeshift orphanage in the Dominican Republic. They allegedly did not have the proper paperwork.

Silsby, the group leader, told the Associated Press Wednesday that she and Coulter expect to be released soon, and that they’d even come back to Haiti in the future.

“Oh yes, both of us would come back to Haiti because there is so much need here, especially for the children,” Silsby said. “We would definitely come back to help them once this misunderstanding or whatever you want to call it is sorted out.”

Their friends and family members back home have thought for more than a week they would be released any day — mostly because of repeated media reports that proved to be full of false hope.

On Tuesday, Feb. 24, Judge Bernard Saint-Vil told Reuters “the case will be over this week because we have no criminal grounds to pursue it” and that the two women “could be released this week.” But two days later Saint-Vil said the two women would remain in jail because he wanted to obtain more testimony from others.

In a Tuesday, March 2, article, the Associated Press paraphrased Saint-Vil as saying “he’ll likely order the release” of the women after a hearing that very day. But after the hearing concluded Saint-Vil said he needed to give all the evidence to the prosecutor and wait for his reply. Saint-Vil added that whatever the prosecutor recommends, the “final decision is mine.”

A day later, a CNN.com article reported that Saint-Vil “will decide Wednesday the fate” of the women, although the day concluded with no news of any ruling.

Louis Ricardo Chachoute, an attorney for the Americans, told the Associated Press he believes his clients will be released by the end of the week.

“What I can say is our clients are innocent,” Chachoute said. “They only wanted to help.”

The other eight team members were released from jail Feb. 18. Saint-Vil kept Silsby and Coulter in jail because he had further questions for them.

The freed group members are Carla Thompson and Nicole and Corinna Lankford of Central Valley Baptist; Paul Thompson, his son Silas and Steve McMullen of Eastside Baptist Church in Twin Falls, Idaho; Jim Allen of Paramount Baptist Church in Amarillo, Texas; and Drew Culberth of Bethel Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan. Bethel Baptist is the only church not affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.
Compiled by Michael Foust, an assistant editor of Baptist Press.

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