Peru Terrorism Trial Nears End

Associated Press -- 11 June 2001

by Rick Vecchio

LIMA, Peru - Lori Berenson, a New York native accused of helping leftist rebels plot a thwarted takeover of Peru's Congress, will have a chance to make a final statement in court on June 20 before a verdict is handed down, the presiding judge said Monday night.

Judge Marcos Ibazeta set the date after the defense wrapped up closing arguments for her three-month civilian retrial.

Ibazeta said Berenson would be given the opportunity to make a morning address to the three-judge panel, which would then take a recess until 3 p.m. (4 p.m. EDT) and deliver its ruling.

Defense lawyer Jose Luis Sandoval said the former Massachusetts Institute of Technology student was being prosecuted for her leftist ideals. ``None of the accusations have elements of proof,'' he said. ``We are convinced of her innocence.''

Berenson, 31, was convicted of treason and sentenced to life without parole five years ago by a secret military court for allegedly plotting with the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, or MRTA, to seize Peru's legislature.

The conviction was overturned in August after years of pressure from the United States to grant her a new trial. This time she was tried on lesser charges of ``terrorist collaboration'' and ``illicit association.''

Prosecutors, seeking a 20-year sentence, allege Berenson posed as a journalist in 1995 to enter Congress, with a top Peruvian rebel's wife as her photographer, to gather information for the takeover.

Police say the group wanted to take lawmakers hostage and exchange them for imprisoned rebels.

She has acknowledges that she rented a house used by Peruvian guerrillas as a hide-out but insists she did not know the people she lived with were leftist rebels.