Berenson Lawyer Makes Concluding Remarks

Reuters -- 11 June 2001

by Jude Webber

LIMA, Peru - The lawyer for U.S. citizen Lori Berenson on Monday appealed to a civilian court conducting a retrial on terrorism charges to free her, saying she "has no blood on her hands" and there was no evidence of her guilt.

"My client is a woman whose dignity has been denied. She is a woman of enormous humanity and she does not have blood on her hands," Jose Sandoval, lawyer for the 31-year-old New Yorker, told the court in his final summing-up.

Berenson, who has already served more than five years in jail, faces charges of collaborating with the Marxist rebel group Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA). Prosecutors have called for a sentence of at least 20 years.

Berenson admits she has leftist sympathies but says she is innocent of all charges against her. She has remained largely calm and impassive throughout the trial, which began in March.

"I ask for my client to be cleared of the charges for which there is no proof," Sandoval said.

Court President Marcos Ibazeta said the court would recess until June 20, when Berenson would have a final chance to speak in her own defense at 9:00 a.m. (10:00 p.m. EDT/1400 GMT).

He said the verdict would be delivered at 3:00 p.m. (4:00 p.m. EDT/2000 GMT) on the same day. Peruvians have scant sympathy for her, believing her poise to be a sign of insolence or guilt, and many expect her to be given a tough sentence.

"Our lawyer clearly showed that all the accusations are false," Berenson's father, Mark, said after the hearing.

"It's time for real justice to begin in Peru for her and for all Peruvians. I expect, in real justice, Lori will be freed on June 20 and will go home with me to celebrate Father's Day," he added. Father's Day is on June 17.

Berenson was jailed for life for treason in 1996 after a summary trial by a hooded military judge who declared her an MRTA leader. That conviction was overturned last year and a new civilian trial on the lesser collaboration charges ordered.

Prosecutors say Berenson, who shared a house with MRTA leaders, posed as a journalist to help them plot an attack on Congress. The MRTA is best known for a 126-day hostage siege in the Japanese ambassador's residence in Lima in 1996-97.

Berenson, who studied social anthropology, says she did not know the true identities of her housemates and says she was researching pieces for two leftist U.S. journals although she had yet to have a piece published by the time of her arrest.