LIMA, Peru (AP) — A Peruvian judge ordered convicted rebel collaborator Lori Berenson freed from prison Friday, ruling that her initial parole order was sound, but the New Yorker's legal troubles remained unresolved.
Judge Jessica Leon originally paroled Berenson in May, ruling that the activist had served the necessary three-quarters of a 20-year sentence.
But a higher court annulled the judge's decision on a technicality in mid-August, sending Berenson back to a Lima woman's prison. She took her 18-month old son, Salvador, with her.
Berenson, 40, received the news in a prison courtroom without showing emotion. Her lawyer and husband, Anibal Apari, said he expected her to be freed within 24 hours.
The former Massachusetts Institute of Technology student and leftist activist must remain in Peru, however, until her full sentence is served — unless President Alan Garcia decides to commute it.
Garcia has indicated he would not consider a decision until all of the legal issues in the case have been resolved — which means Berenson could be stuck in Peru for some time. The prosecutor in the case said he would appeal Friday's ruling.
Apari said an appeal would take two to three months to be resolved.
Berenson's mother, Rhoda Berenson, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview, "I'm very happy right now. ... We knew all along that Lori was not doing anything unusual. She was following the rules so we were only hoping that the law would prevail and it has."
Leon dismissed arguments made by prosecutor Julio Galindo that Berenson had not completed sufficient work and study benefits to attain the full 15 years of credit.
"The sentence was completed with its goal of re-education, rehabilitation and resocialization, which permits her to finish the sentence in liberty," the judge said.
Galindo has pledged to do everything possible to keep Berenson in prison, arguing that it is his duty to protect Peruvian society and that other people convicted of terrorism-related crimes could now argue that they, too, should go free.
In returning Berenson to prison on Aug. 18, Galindo had successfully argued that a required report by police verifying the address at which she would be living was not filed. A three-judge panel accepted the argument and annulled Leon's parole.
In ordering Berenson's release Friday, Leon cited a letter Berenson wrote in May in which she apologized to Peruvian society for any hurt she may have caused.
Berenson was arrested in 1995 and accused of helping the leftist Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement plan an armed takeover of the Peruvian Congress.
The takeover never happened, but prosecutors said that among other things, Berenson had helped the group to rent a safe house.
A military court convicted Berenson in 1996 and sentenced her to life in prison for sedition. She was retried by a civilian court in 2001 and sentenced to 20 years on a conviction of terrorist collaboration.
Berenson was completely unrepentant at the time of her arrest but softened during years of sometimes harsh prison conditions, eventually being praised as a model prisoner.
Associated Press writers Frank Bajak in Bogota and Tom McElroy in New York contributed to this report.
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