Haitian justice authorities are making plans for a new criminal trial against a U.S. citizen who has been accused of physically and sexually abusing boys in an orphanage that he has run for decades in the impoverished Caribbean country, a top government official and lawyers said Monday.
Michael Geilenfeld, an Iowa native and a former member of Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity group, opened the St. Joseph's Home for Boys in the Haitian capital in 1985. He was arrested in September, but freed last month when a Haitian judge dismissed the case following a brief trial that was not attended by the five accusers, now adults.
Justice Minister Pierre-Richard Casimir told The Associated Press that an appeal filed by lawyers for the alleged victims, allowing the case to be re-examined, has been granted. Without disclosing specifics, he said Monday the prosecutor "didn't do the case correctly'' and has since been sanctioned.
"There should be another trial in this case,'' Casimir said in a phone interview.
Manuel Jeanty, a lawyer for the accusers, said he and his clients were not notified about the recent trial beforehand, but hope they "will see justice'' in Haiti now that an appeal has been granted.
Defense lawyer Alain Lemithe said he and other attorneys are prepared to "go back to court to defend Mr. Geilenfeld's interests." He alleged that the government's decision to grant the appeal was made "under pressure,'' adding that "what they are doing is not illegal but it's very unusual.''
Geilenfeld's lawyers blame an email and blog campaign by U.S. activist Paul Kendrick of Freeport, Maine for their client's arrest, and for the granting of the appeal.
Kendrick, co-founder of the Maine chapter of a Catholic lay reform group, launched a campaign against Geilenfeld in 2011 after learning of the abuse allegations.
Geilenfeld and Hearts with Haiti, a North Carolina nonprofit organization that raises money for the orphanage, filed a defamation suit against Kendrick in February 2013, claiming the allegations against him were "false and heinous.'' In a deposition filed in the civil case, Geilenfeld denied ever engaging in a sexual act with anyone under age 18 and said the campaign against him had cost his group more than $1.5 million in donations.
Geilenfeld's charity includes three homes, a guest house for missionaries and a dance troupe that has toured the U.S. and Canada to promote his organization.
It was not immediately clear how reopening the case against Geilenfeld in Haiti will affect the U.S. defamation lawsuit against Kendrick.
Kendrick applauded the decision on the Haiti appeal.
"The minister of justice has affirmed that the voices of the victims of abuse will be heard,'' he said by email on Monday.
A security guard posted at St. Joseph's Home for Boys in a gritty section of Port-au-Prince said Geilenfeld was inside the complex, but he did not wish to comment on the case. (AP)