Dad's plea on Peruvian TV: 'God knows she is innocent'
LIMA, Peru -- (AP) -- Lori Berenson's father appealed to Peruvians on Wednesday not to presume his daughter is a terrorist, after the New York native proclaimed her innocence at her retrial on charges she helped leftist guerrillas.
Mark Berenson appeared on a nationally televised morning news program a day after the retrial began, with his plea to Peruvians, many of whom are used to seeing his daughter described as a leftist radical who plotted with the rebels to take over Congress.
"Lori is an accused terrorist, but she is not a terrorist. I know she is innocent. God knows she is innocent,'' said Mark Berenson. ``A person must be presumed innocent. It is up to the government of Peru to prove her guilty.''
A secret military court convicted Berenson of treason in 1996 and sentenced her to life in prison for helping the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement plot the thwarted takeover.
But after years of pressure from the United States, Peru's highest military court overturned the conviction in August, leading to the new civilian trial, in which Berenson faces the lesser charge of "terrorist collaboration.''
In court, the 31-year-old Berenson said she was wrongly accused. "I am innocent of all of the charges made against me,'' she said from a concrete cell behind steel bars -- a common arrangement for terrorism trials in Peru. "The fact that you have me behind bars violates the principle of a presumption of innocence.''
Prosecutors said Berenson came to Peru with the purpose of collaborating with the Tupac Amaru group . They said she rented a house in suburban Lima in 1995 to use as a hideout for the rebel group.
Berenson attorney José Luis Sandoval claims the witnesses have since altered, recanted or disavowed those statements.
The three-judge panel suspended the trial until Thursday to give Berenson a chance to consider a confession, which could lead to a reduced sentence. The prosecution seeks 20 years.