PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The 10 U.S. missionaries charged with kidnapping for trying to take a busload of children out of Haiti should be released from jail while an investigation continues, a Haitian judge said Thursday, giving the Americans their best news since their arrests nearly two weeks ago.
Judge Bernard Saint-Vil has the final word on whether to free the missionaries, though he gave the prosecutor-general the opportunity to raise objections. He said he was accepting defense attorneys' request to provisionally free the Americans while an investigation of the case continues.
It is unclear when the missionaries, most from an Idaho Baptist church group and one from Topeka, might be released, and Saint-Vil said it was too early to say whether they would be able to leave this earthquake-crippled Caribbean nation if granted provisional freedom. It is also unclear what bearing releasing the missionaries might have on whether they go to trial.
Saint-Vil on Thursday privately questioned the last of a group of parents who said they willingly gave their children to the Baptist missionaries, believing the Americans would educate and care for them.
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"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."
Saint-Vil said he delivered his recommendation to prosecutor Josephe Mannes Louis on Thursday. Louis said he would respond with his own recommendation next week. Haitian government offices are closed today for a national day of mourning.
The Americans 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.