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HAITI - Alleged kidnapper freed from jail

Published:Tuesday | March 9, 2010 | 12:00 AM


One of two United States (US) Baptist missionaries still held on kidnapping charges in Haiti was released yesterday, but the group's leader remained in custody.

Charisa Coulter was taken from her jail cell to the airport by US Embassy staff more than a month after she and nine other Americans were arrested for trying to take 33 children out of Haiti after a devastating earthquake hit the country on January 12.

Coulter, wearing a red tank top and sunglasses, declined comment as she quickly got into an SUV that took her to the airport.

Defence attorney Louis Ricardo Chachoute said she was released because there was no evidence to support the charges of kidnapping and criminal association.

He predicted Laura Silsby, the leader of the Idaho-based missionary group, would be released soon as well.

"There are no prosecution witnesses to substantiate anything," Chachoute said.

Coulter, of Boise, Idaho, is a diabetic, and had medical difficulties during her confinement. She was treated at least once on February 1 by American doctors after collapsing with what she said was either severe dehydration or the flu.

Silsby, the leader of the Idaho-based missionaries, was in another part of the city in a closed hearing before the judge who had previously said he expected to release the two Americans.

The Americans, most from Idaho, were detained on January 29 while trying to leave the country without proper documents to remove the children. Their arrest came as Haitian authorities were trying to crack down on unauthorised adoptions to prevent child trafficking in the chaos following the quake.

Silsby initially said the children were orphaned in a quake that the government said had killed more than 230,000 people. But it was later found that the children had been given away by still-living parents.

Chachoute said the Americans had only come to Haiti to help the country.

"Firstly, there was no criminal conspiracy; secondly, there was no child snatching," he said.

The group planned to take the children to the neighbouring Dominican Republic to an orphanage Silsby was creating in a former hotel.

The judge released eight of the Americans on February 17 after concluding the parents voluntarily gave up their children in the belief that the Americans would give them a better life. But he decided that he still had additional questions for Silsby and Coulter.