PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The 10 Idaho missionaries facing kidnapping charges in Haiti testified as a group in a closed-door hearing Wednesday before an examining judge but their anticipated release did not happen.
The case will now be transferred to a local prosecutor, who has five days from Thursday to review the dossier and report his findings to Examining Judge Bernard Saint Vil and decide if the defendants should be released or jailed, or if attorneys need to call more witnesses.
Once the judge receives the prosecutors’ dossier, Saint Vil has up to two months to make a final decision on whether the defendants should be released.
Meanwhile, some prominent American Baptists in the United States, including Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, have been enraged by the handling of the case.
Land, who wrote to President Barack Obama on Saturday asking him to do ‘‘everything in your considerable power to secure the release'' of the detainees, said Wednesday he was growing increasingly frustrated with what he viewed as inaction.
"If I were the president, I'd call President Preval and say, ‘President Clinton is down there and we're going to have him swim by and pick up the missionaries and we'll adjudicate any court issues in the U.S.,' '' Land said.
"I'd tell the Haiti government that the American people have responded in an extraordinary generous fashion for the suffering country and now it's time for the government of Haiti to respond to these people who at worst were guilty of naiveté."
In addition to kidnapping charges, the missionaries face criminal association charges.
The missionaries arrived shortly after noon Wednesday, squeezed into a Haitian police truck after they were shuttled from the police station cell where they are being detained. As they filed out the back of the truck, officers struggled to keep back several dozen photographers and reporters. A few of the missionaries held tightly onto well-worn copies of the Bible.
The missionaries’ 90-minute examination came the same day that several Haitian parents testified before Saint Vil, telling him that they willingly handed over their children to the missionaries.
"It was a very good thing that the American missionaries were doing for us," Paulene Alene said afterward, adding that she handed over her 7-year-old daughter to the missionaries for a better life. "We gave them our children voluntarily. We ask for their freedom.”
One of the missionaries’ attorneys conceded in the courthouse parking lot -- filled with tents housing those made homeless by the Jan. 12 quake -- that his clients hadn’t submitted paperwork to Haitian authorities to adopt the children but that the Jan. 12 catastrophe made a case for their rescue.
"There was no way to do this in a legal way," attorney Jean Rene Tessier said. "The border was open to accepting people and there was no institution that could do anything about this case at this time."
Despite that claim, Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive said last month that the government worried that children could be picked up on the streets of Port-au-Prince by nongovernmental organizations as well as by others who may be involved in trafficking into prostitution or slavery.
Bellerive said Haiti would not release children for adoption without his personal approval, and ordered nongovernmental agencies working in Port-au-Prince to stop collecting children found on the street.
After the Wednesday hearing in an air-conditioned side room at the courthouse, the missionaries filed out one-by-one under a heavy police escort.
As they filed out of the courtroom, some of the stared ahead, a few smiled, and one spoke.
"God is good, God is good," said Laura Silsby, an Idaho businesswoman who is the leader of the group. The group was then shuttled back to the Haitian police station where they have been held since they were detained earlier this month.
The issue could be politically tricky for Obama as he presses a domestic agenda that already has the opposition of many conservatices.
"Every day these people spend in a squalid Haitian prison does considerable damage to Mr. Obama's standing with evangelicals," Land said Wednesday. "The question how badly and how permanently depends on what the administration does."
Land said he's encouraging fellow Baptists to register their complaints with their member of Congress.
Reg Brown, a Washington, D.C.-based attorney for detainee, Jim Allen, a Texas welder, said Wednesday that Allen's team of lawyers is "cautiously optimistic'' that their client would soon be released.
"We believe the Secretary of State has played a constructive role in that Secretary Clinton wants to bring the Americans home," said Brown, who this week wrote to Clinton, asking for her assistance.
The group set up a Web site Wednesday -- bringjimhome.com -- with Allen's wife, Lisa, asking for help.
"When Jim heard about the earthquake in Haiti he felt a very strong call to help that country and its people recover from the extreme devastation," she says on the Web site, noting that her husband decided to go to Haiti to help a cousin, a pastor in Idaho. "Jim did not know all the specifics of the trip but I know that Jim is a godly man who would never, ever break a law anywhere."
Daniel, of the Miami Herald, reported from Haiti. Clark reported from Washington.