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U.S. missionary convicted in Haiti, but free to go

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The last of 10 Americans detained while trying to take 33 children out of Haiti following the Jan. 12 earthquake was released Monday after a judge convicted her and sentenced her to the time she had already served in jail.

Laura Silsby, the organizer of the ill-fated effort to take the children to an orphanage being set up in the Dominican Republic, returned to her jail cell briefly to retrieve belongings before quickly heading to the Port-au-Prince airport.

“I'm praising God,” Silsby told The Associated Press as she waited for a flight out of Haiti. She declined further questions.

The Idaho businesswoman had been in custody since Jan. 29. She was originally charged with kidnapping and criminal association. Those charges were dropped and she was convicted of arranging illegal travel under a 1980 statute restricting movement out of Haiti signed by then-dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier.

Prosecutor Jean-Serge Joseph said she was convicted and sentenced to the 3 months and 8 days she has spent behind bars. Earlier, the prosecution had recommended a six-month sentence and she faced a maximum of three years on the charge.

“She is free,” Joseph said.

The 40-year-old Silsby told the court earlier she thought the children were orphans whose homes were destroyed in the earthquake. But she lacked the proper papers to remove them from the country at a time when the government was restricting adoptions to prevent child trafficking in the chaos that followed the earthquake.

An AP investigation later revealed all the children had at least one living parent, who had turned their children over to the group in hopes of securing better lives for them.

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