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Split verdict in landmark Haiti prison riot trial
Haitian judge convicts 7 police officers, acquits 6 in closely watched riot trial
By The Associated Press

LES CAYES, Haiti (AP) ' A Haitian judge convicted seven police officers Thursday on various charges for their role in a prison riot in which at least 10 prisoners were shot to death in the chaotic aftermath of the January 2010 earthquake.

Judge Ezekiel Vaval said six other police officers were innocent as he concluded a three-month trial in the southwestern town of Les Cayes that was a closely watched test of the judicial system in the impoverished country.

The 13 police officers were accused of murder, attempted murder and other crimes after they allegedly opened fire on inmates during a prison riot in Les Cayes one week after the quake.

The sentences ranged from two years to 13 years of hard labor. The defendants faced up to life in prison.

"The decision of the judge is his expression of the truth," Vaval said in the packed courtroom. "There are other versions that exist but this is mine. And that is the law."

Lawyers for the officers had argued that the police officers were trying to break up a riot under difficult circumstances and it was unclear who actually shot the prisoners, saying some may have been killed by fellow inmates.

The trial itself was a rare occurrence in Haiti, a country where the judicial system barely functions and public officials are rarely held to account. The judge told The Associated Press before the verdict that he had received threatening phone calls and feared for his life.

Twenty-one other officers who fled will be tried in absentia.

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