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Sanctuary Workers Guilty of Assisting Illegal Aliens

February 21, 1985|From Times Wire Services

HOUSTON — A federal jury today convicted Sanctuary Movement worker Jack Elder on six counts of conspiracy, bringing illegal aliens to the United States and transporting them through south Texas.

The jury also found Elder's co-worker, Stacey Merkt, guilty of conspiracy, but acquitted her on two charges of illegally transporting Salvadoran refugees.

Elder and Merkt showed no emotion when the verdicts were read. The jury of 10 men and two women had deliberated four hours over two days before returning the verdicts.

Elder faces up to 30 years in prison and $28,000 in fines, and Merkt could be sentenced to five years and fined $10,000. She also faces revocation of her probation on an earlier conviction.

March 27 Sentencing

Judge Filemon Vela set a March 27 sentencing hearing.

The defense promised an appeal, and Elder said he will continue his efforts to help Salvadorans flee to the United States.

"I'm proud that I am following the best traditions of my faith and our country," Elder said.

"I don't know whether to cry or to yell about the injustices both here and there," Merkt said, referring to El Salvador. "I believe it is time to yell. I will persevere. It's inconceivable that I was convicted when I am innocent."

U.S. Atty. Dan Hedges said he hoped Sanctuary workers "would already be weary of breaking the law. We've always treated them the same as we've treated anyone else and we're going to continue treating them as we're treating everyone else."

200-Church Network

The Sanctuary Movement is a network of 200 U.S. churches that ignore laws and provide refuge to Salvadorans and Guatemalans.

Elder and Merkt are employees of Casa Oscar Romero, a border shelter at San Benito, Tex., for Central Americans that is sponsored by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brownsville.

Elder was acquitted last month on charges that he transported three Salvadorans in March, 1984. Jurors agreed with defense arguments that Elder did not further the Salvadorans' movement into the United States by merely giving them a ride to a bus station.

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