Prosecution Urges at Least 20 Years for Berenson

Reuters -- 7 June 2001

by Missy Ryan

LIMA, Peru - A Peruvian prosecutor on Thursday urged a court to hand U.S. citizen Lori Berenson a jail sentence of at least 20 years, saying she was guilty of collaboration and illicit association with ``terrorism.''

Cesar Navas said the 31-year-old New Yorker, who is being given a civilian retrial on charges she collaborated with the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) Marxist rebel group, deserved the maximum sentence for an unrepentant attitude.

``We have seen that the accused continues to maintain that she is innocent of the charges,'' Navas told the court in one of its final sessions before a verdict, expected on June 19.

Navas said Berenson's sentence should not be reduced ``below the legal minimum'' because she has neither shown remorse nor apologized.

Berenson, who sat in the small prison courtroom where the trial is taking place taking notes and occasionally shaking her head, says she is innocent of all the charges against her and would not own up to something she says she did not do to win a lower sentence.

She has already spent more than five years in jail after being found guilty by a hooded military judge in a summary trial in 1996 of being an MRTA leader. That conviction, for treason, carried a life sentence but it was overturned last year and a civilian retrial ordered.

Navas listed his charges as ``collaboration with terrorism and illicit association (with terrorism) against the Peruvian state ... The prosecution seeks a jail sentence of 20 years and the payment of a fine of 20,000 soles ($5,665).''

The prosecution says Berenson posed as a journalist to help the MRTA rebels, with whom she had shared a house, plot an attack on Congress.

Mission to Peru?

The state attorney, who is due to conclude his closing arguments on Friday, said Berenson had cast herself as a tourist, journalist, or anthropologist in different moments to cover up her true motives for coming to Peru.

``She came here with a specific mission ... as a collaborator with the MRTA,'' Mario Cavagnaro told the court.

Many Peruvians have little sympathy for Berenson and see her attitude in court -- her first chance to defend herself in public since her arrest -- as insolence or guilt.

``(The prosecution) is being led by public opinion, which is weighty in this case ... and we can show this has been a politically manipulated trial from the beginning,'' said Jose Sandoval, Berenson's defense attorney. He lost a motion to have the presiding judge, who he said was biased and linked to government corruption, removed from the trial.

Berenson's parents said they were neither optimistic nor pessimistic ahead of the sentence.

``I'm going to reserve my expectations ... I am certainly hopeful that justice will prevail and Lori will be declared innocent and come home,'' her mother, Rhoda, told Reuters Television during a recess in the session.

``Whether or not that will happen we've got to see ... There's still a mentality that it's up to Lori to prove her innocence. We have not seen evidence that Lori helped (the MRTA), intended to help or did any of the accusations they have stated,'' she added.

The trial resumes on Friday for its 31st session.