Peru's president says New Yorker Berenson not a threat, doesn't rule out commuting sentence

LIMA, Peru (AP) — President Alan Garcia says he doesn't consider Lori Berenson a threat to Peru, suggesting he may be inclined to commute the New Yorker's accomplice-to-terrorism sentence so she can go home.

A three-judge panel returned the 40-year-old Berenson and her toddler son to prison on Aug. 18 after prosecutors objected to her May parole, calling her a danger to society.

Garcia said in an interview with CNN broadcast Tuesday night that while he understands many Peruvians feel Berenson should complete her 20-year term, he personally has sympathy for the activist and her 16-month-old son, Salvador.

"How much can Peru really fear a woman who spent 15 years in prison?" Garcia said. "She has a little boy, and that moves me a lot."

She "is not a threat to Peru. That's over. It's part of the past," he added.

In a response to a question about the case's political sensitivity in Peru, Garcia noted that he has the power to commute Berenson's sentence and expel her and mentioned three factors that, to his mind, argue for clemency.

In addition to his belief that Berenson is not a threat and his feelings of compassion for mother and child, Garcia said that relations with Washington and U.S. public opinion must be weighed as well as the ordeal's effect on Berenson's parents.

Before being ordered back to prison, Berenson made regular visits to the U.S. Embassy for meetings with consular officials.

Garcia did not say when he might issue a decision on commutation but has indicated in the past that he wanted to wait for the judicial process to run its course.

Berenson's attorney Anibal Apari, who is also Salvador's father, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the judge who ordered her paroled has now received police verification of Berenson's domicile.

Berenson was returned to prison based on prosecutors' arguments that her attorneys did not quickly inform police of where she would live once paroled.

Berenson was arrested in 1995 and accused of helping Tupac Amaru rebels plan an attack on Peru's Congress.

A military court sentenced her to life in prison for treason but, following pressure from Berenson's parents and the U.S. government, she was retried and convicted in 2001 by a civilian court on the lesser charge of collaborating with terrorism.