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American missionary to stand trial in Haiti

By the CNN Wire Staff
Charisa Coulter, left, and Laura Silsby are two of 10 missionaries detained in Haiti. Only Silsby remains in detention.
Charisa Coulter, left, and Laura Silsby are two of 10 missionaries detained in Haiti. Only Silsby remains in detention.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • American missionary Laura Silsby will stand trial on a charge of arranging irregular travel
  • Judge dropped more serious charges against her and nine fellow missionaries Monday
  • People convicted of arranging irregular travel face from six months to three years in prison
  • Silsby's nine fellow missionaries were released from detention weeks ago
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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (CNN) -- American missionary Laura Silsby will stand trial in Haiti on a charge of arranging irregular travel, a judge ruled Monday, but more serious charges against her and nine fellow missionaries were dropped.

Judge Bernard Saint-Vil dropped kidnapping and criminal association charges against Silsby and nine other missionaries who were stopped while trying to take 33 Haitian children out of the country after a devastating earthquake rocked Haiti in January.

If convicted Silsby could face from six months to three years in prison for arranging irregular travel, the Haitian term for illegally smuggling humans. The judge said documents in the case will be delivered to Haiti's attorney general Tuesday morning and the trial could begin as early as this week.

Silsby's nine fellow missionaries were released from detention and returned to the United States weeks ago, but Silsby has remained behind bars in Haiti.

The judge's decision means that the nine other missionaries no longer face any charges in Haiti.

The judge ruled that Silsby and Jean Saint-Vil, a Haitian-American pastor who is not related to the judge, will stand trial on the charge of arranging irregular travel. Silsby told officials that the pastor helped her locate children in the Delmas neighborhood of Port-au-Prince. He fled the country the day she was arrested and has not cooperated with authorities.

Haitian authorities stopped the 10 on January 29 as they tried to take 33 Haitian children across the border into the Dominican Republic. Authorities said the group didn't have proper legal documentation.

The 10 Americans, many of whom belong to a Baptist church in Idaho, have said they were trying to help the children get to a safe place after the 7.0-magnitude earthquake flattened cities and towns in Haiti.

Silsby originally claimed the children were orphaned or abandoned, but the Haitian government and the orphans' charity SOS Children say that all have at least one living parent. Some said they placed their children in Silsby's care because that was the only way they knew to ensure a better quality of life.

The Americans said they had planned to house the children in a converted hotel in the Dominican Republic and later move them to an orphanage.

Eight of the missionaries were released from custody in February and a ninth, Charisa Coulter of Boise, Idaho, was released in March.

CNN's Lonzo Cook contributed to this report.