News from Lori's Parents

21 April 2001

In this update:

Lori's trial continues - fifth week

This was a week of four very long sessions. To date, after 14 sessions since the public hearings began on March 20, Lori has personally given more than 24 hours of public testimony. In a radio interview, Chief Judge Marcos Ibazeta opined that a verdict in Lori's case would be reached by May 11.

Castrellon testifies

On Tuesday the hearing ran from 9 AM to 4 PM with only one five-minute break. Most of the day was spent questioning Pacifico Castrellon, who had to stand and provide testimony for five and a half hours. He described how he and Lori traveled to Peru, and rented a house that was later partly sublet to an engineer named Tizoc Ruiz. After her arrest in 1995, Lori learned that Ruiz was Miguel Rincon, a leader of the MRTA. Castrellon and Lori agreed on much of their testimony and, as the Associated Press reported on April 17, "during cross-examination, Castrellon declined to accuse Berenson of collaborating with the MRTA and said he never heard her talk about politics or the guerilla group."

But Castrellon and Lori differ on some details. In particular, he claims that on the way to Peru they met a man named Carlos and that after his arrest he learned Carlos was really Nestor Cerpa, the top leader of the MRTA. But when pressed, Castrellon admitted that the antiterrorism police had shown him a badly drawn sketch of a man who he then said looked like Carlos (he never saw a photo) and that the police then told him that it was a sketch of Nestor Cerpa. Castrellon also claims Carlos introduced them to a woman named Isabel who helped them look for a house in Lima and who even joined them when he signed the lease to the house. Lori said she did not know Carlos or Isabel although there might have been a woman who was helping them find a house.

On Wednesday, in another very long session, the real estate agent said a woman had joined Lori and Castrellon on one occasion. Both this agent and the landlord agreed that only Lori and Castrellon attended the lease signing. In addition, on Thursday, the real estate agent's brother described the "other woman" as totally different from Castrellon's description of Isabel.

On Tuesday, Lori and Castrellon "confronted" each other. For two hours they faced each other and answered questions about the disputed points. Each stuck to his/her testimony. The prosecutor claimed that Lori must have been lying because as the "accused" she had the most to gain from lying. The prosecutor completely ignored the fact that Castrellon's new trial is coming up soon. As Clifford Krauss pointed out in the New York Times, Castrellon is hoping "that his own future retrial will reduce his sentence." Mr. Krauss also noted that "many parts of his story appear vulnerable to cross-examination."

In Peru it was (and still is) common to offer a reduced sentence if an accused confesses, apologizes, and particularly if he or she "amplifies" the testimony to incriminate others, preferably implicating others with known leaders. Immediately after his arrest, Castrellon decided to cooperate with the antiterrorism police and his testimony in 1995 ended with a statement that he was hoping for a shorter sentence. He confessed then and repeated on Tuesday, that he knew members of the MRTA and helped them by drawing maps of the streets around the Peruvian Congress and making a model of the Congress. But he claims he was first duped into helping and then threatened when he wanted to quit. After his arrest he was taken to the Peruvian Congress where he fell to his knees and begged forgiveness. He then implicated Lori and connected her to Cerpa.

Rincon testifies

On Thursday, MRTA leader Miguel Rincon testified. He reconfirmed the testimony he gave in the first phase of this trial, stating that Lori knew him only as Tizoc Ruiz and did not know his connection to the MRTA. He said that Lori was not a member and did not in any way help the group. He also surprised everyone in the court by saying that although Castrellon testified he was duped, in reality Castrellon was an important member of the MRTA, recruited from Panama.

Through all of this, Lori continues to maintain she is innocent of all charges. She was never a member of the MRTA and never collaborated with them. No witness, including Castrellon, has said otherwise in either the investigative or current public phase of this trial.

Peruvian Congressional aide testifies

On Friday, Luis Diaz Asta, an aide to Peruvian Congressman Henry Pease testified that he met Lori when she was working as a journalist in the Congress in 1995 and spoke with her on several of her visits. She also accompanied him to a social gathering. The prosecutor called him to testify, perhaps hoping that he would reveal that Lori's actions while in Congress had been suspicious. The prosecutor and the judges appeared frustrated when he affirmed that Lori worked seriously as a journalist and never did anything suspicious. The prosecutor then unsuccessfully tried to disqualify his testimony, insinuating his work for a left-of-center Congressman tainted his declarations.

Congressman Scarborough visits

Congressman Joe Scarborough (Republican, Florida) attended part of the trial on Wednesday and visited privately with Lori. He also had a private meeting with us and promised to help in whatever way possible. We are extremely grateful to the Congressman for making this long trip in order to personally express his concern and support directly to Lori. Needless to say, Lori, too, was very gratified. The residents of Pensicola, Florida are fortunate to have a Congressional Representative who is so deeply committed to human rights.

Unfair trial

According to articles in the San Jose Mercury News and the Houston Chronicle:

"Coletta Youngers, senior associate in the Washington Office on Latin America, said that although Berenson's new trial is fairer, Peru's tough antiterrorist laws do little to protect defendant's rights. Conviction requires 'very little proof,' Youngers said, and Berenson 'is not getting what most Americans would consider a free and fair trial.'"

- Rhoda and Mark Berenson