UPDATE: Haiti judge frees 8 U.S. detainees
Baptist Press
February 17, 2010

UPDATE: Haiti judge frees 8 U.S. detainees

UPDATE: Haiti judge frees 8 U.S. detainees
Baptist Press
February 17, 2010

Eight of the 10 American

detainees in Haiti arrived in Miami, Fla., early today.

They arrived at Miami

International Airport shortly after midnight on a U.S. Air Force cargo plane.

None of them spoke to reporters about their ordeal.

“Faith means everything to

me and I knew this moment would come when the truth would set me free,” said

Jim Allen, a welder from Amarillo, Texas, in a statement.

A judge in Haiti released

the eight on bail Wednesday. They did not have to post bond to leave but had to

promise to return if needed during the investigation.

Bernard Saint-Vil said two

volunteers will not be freed, the Reuters News Service reported. Laura Silsby,

the group’s leader, and Charisa Coulter are being kept for further


CNN reported that Coulter, who is diabetic, was taken to a field hospital “in a

lot of pain.” Friends and family members of the detainees had expressed concern

during the three-week detention about the volunteers’ access to health care.

Jorge Puello, who had stepped forward as a presumed legal adviser in the

Dominican Republic on behalf of some of the Americans, reportedly now is being

pursued by U.S. Marshals as well as authorities in El Salvador.

Puello called the Associated Press Feb. 16 and said he was in Panama preparing

to return to El Salvador to face charges for leading a ring that lured young

girls and women into prostitution. He also acknowledged he is named in a 2003

federal indictment in Vermont that accuses him of smuggling illegal immigrants

from Canada into the United States, AP said.

Saint-Vil, however, had stated that Puello’s legal problems are separate from

the child kidnapping charges that were leveled against the 10 Americans.

One of the Americans on Tuesday denied any connection to Puello.

AP said Puello, 32, is identified as Jorge Torres in the Vermont indictment and

managed to avoid arrest because he was living in Canada at the time. The United

States requested extradition, and Puello fled.

The AP report also noted that Puello was convicted of theft of U.S. government

property in 1999 in Pennsylvania and sentenced to six months in prison and five

years probation, and in 2001 a court found he violated the terms of his

probation and issued a warrant for his arrest.

After the Americans were detained Jan. 29, Puello contacted their relatives by

calling their church, Central Valley Baptist Church in Meridian, Idaho, AP


Before he initiated the call, he had never met any of them. In subsequent

days, Puello reportedly delivered food and medicine to the prisoners and helped

them find a Haitian lawyer, whom he later fired.

Puello was born in the United States but has strong ties to the Dominican

Republic, AP said, and authorities in El Salvador noted his resemblance to the

suspect in a sex trafficking case in their country after seeing him portrayed

as representing the Americans.


confirmed during an eight-minute phone call with his wife Feb. 16 that he had

no contact with Puello.

“I have never heard from that guy, never seen him, never spoke to him, never

met him,” Allen said. “I don’t even know who he is.”

Louis Gary Lissade, a former Haitian minister of justice, is representing Allen

with help from a team of attorneys in the United States including Liberty Legal

Institute, which conveyed information from the phone call in a news release the

same day.

Allen’s wife Lisa said that during the call he was in good spirits, joked about

having lost a few pounds and expressed confidence in Haitian officials to set

him free, the news release said.

Liberty Legal Institute, based in Plano, Texas, filed a motion Feb. 10 seeking

the release of Allen, a small business owner and construction worker who is a

member of Paramount Baptist Church in Amarillo.

Kelly Shackelford, Liberty’s chief counsel, said Allen “is an upstanding

American with a good heart trying to rebuild a country. We believe that when

the facts of this case are revealed, our client will be released. We’re working

hard to make that happen.”

Allen reportedly had been invited by a cousin to join the volunteer team and

had “joined the team 48 hours before the group’s departure.”

His wife has

expressed concern about his well-being in prison since he suffers from a

medical condition for which he takes medication, Liberty said.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Compiled by Baptist Press assistant editor Mark Kelly and

staff writer Erin Roach.)