American Lori Berenson Released From Peru Prison After 15 Years

New York parents say they are 'ecstatic,' 15 years of 'horror' comes to end.

ByABC News
December 7, 2009, 6:55 PM

May 26, 2010— -- An American woman who was sentenced to a Peruvian prison by hooded judges 15 years ago is expected to walk free today along with the 1-year-old boy she gave birth to while in custody.

Lori Berenson, her braided brown hair hanging over an embroidered sweater, did not speak but nodded when asked by the judge if she accepted the decision.

"I'm happy with the sentence because justice was done," her lawyer, Anibal Apari, who is also father of her son, told The Associated Press.

Under her conditional release, Berenson, 40, must serve the remainder of her sentence in Peru until November 2015. She was charged with aiding left-wing revolutionaries.

Berenson's parents said they are "ecstatic" about their daughter's release. From the age of 27, Berenson lingered in stark prisons in Peru -- 3,629 miles from her family -- sentenced by a hooded military tribunal to 20 years in prison.

"Obviously, we're excited," said Judy Berenson, who is Lori Berenson's aunt. She said the Berensons were headed to Peru to see their daughter Thursday.

The Berensons estimated they spent more than $1 million on legal and travel fees to defend and support their daughter. For decades, they had been consumed with worry about her medical and emotional well-being.

"I think what was hardest for me was the knowledge that she was being unjustly deprived of living fully in the prime years of her life," her mother, New York University physics professor Rhoda Berenson, 67, told last year.

"It's been a horror," Mark Berenson. told last December. "Nothing could be worse for a parent."

Berenson gave birth to a son Salvador, now 1, whom she has been raising in prison. Her husband, Anibal Apari, whom she met in prison in 2003, had been released several years ago.

"[Salvador] has been in prison with her," Rhoda Berenson told New York's Daily News. "The two of them can go out and begin a new life."

Berenson was a college drop out when she was arrested in Peru for aiding leftist rebels.

The State Department confirmed that Berenson had been released by Peru's National Penal Court. "Beyond that, we can't comment," said spokesman Darby Holladay. "This was a Pervian judicial process and the decision to grant parole at this time was the responsibility of the court."

U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, who for more than a decade had pushed for Berenson's release, said she was "excited" to learn about the court's decision last night.

"I think this is good news that she is essentially free to live with her family," said Michael Levin, Waters' communcations director.

For nearly two decades, despite desperate appeals by her parents, vows that they would not abandon her until she is brought home, and intervention by the U.S. State Department and two American presidents, Berenson had been in prison so long she had created an entire life for herself.

She married a fellow prisoner, and in May 2009 gave birth to her son Salvador.