- (Photo: AP/Esteban Felix)
Laura Silsby, the leader of the 10 U.S. volunteers accused of illegally taking dozens of children out of Haiti, was convicted Monday but then freed to return to the United States.
The judge said she had already served her time in prison and was subsequently released. Silsby, the last of the 10 Christian volunteers to be freed, was scheduled to board a flight back to the United States Monday evening, her attorney Chiller Roy told CNN.
In April, the judge dropped the charges of kidnapping minors and criminal association against all 10 volunteers. However, Silsby faced and was convicted Monday of arranging irregular travel.
The team of volunteers, mostly from two Baptist churches in Idaho, traveled to Haiti in January after a massive earthquake devastated Port-au-Prince. The team unsuccessfully tried to transport children to an orphanage they were setting up in the Dominican Republic. They were arrested on Jan. 29 while attempting to take 33 children to the neighboring country without proper documents.
During the trial, the Americans were imprisoned in Port-au-Prince. Eight of the volunteers were released in February, and the ninth in March.
Last week, Silsby testified in court that the team only wanted to help the Haitian children.
"One week after the earthquake I left my family and my home to help children that had been orphaned in the earthquake," she said, according to The Associated Press. "We came here with a heart to help.”
The American volunteers maintained that they thought the children they were taking were orphans. But during the trial, reporters and the orphans’ charity SOS Children revealed that all the children had at least one living parent. The parents voluntarily gave their children to the Americans because they believed their children could have a better life with the volunteers.
The Jan. 12 earthquake left more than a million people homeless and some 250,000 dead. UNICEF estimates that more than 20,000 children lost their parents in the quake and its aftermath.