Ten American missionaries charged on Thursday with child kidnapping and criminal conspiracy in Haiti could face nine years in prison.

It is Haitian law that has been violated, Justice Minister Paul Denis said Thursday.

Haitian Deputy Prosecutor Jean Ferge Joseph said the case was being sent to an investigate judge.

That judge can free you but he can also continue to hold you for further proceedings, the deputy prosecutor told the five men and five women at a hearing.

All 10 Americans, who ranged in age from 18 to 55, acknowledged under questioning from the prosecutor they had apparently committed a crime by seeking to take the children across the border without proper documents. But they said they were unaware of that until after their arrest.

We didn't know what we were doing was illegal. We did not have any intention to violate the law. But now we understand it's a crime, said Paul Robert Thompson, a pastor who led the group in prayer during a break in the session.

 We simply wanted to help the children. We petition the court not only for our freedom but also for our ability to continue to help, said Group leader Laura Silsby at the hearing.

They were arrested last week on Haiti's border with the Dominican Republic when they tried to cross with a busload of 33 children.

The U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said earlier the United States was not seeking to interfere in the case before the Haitian charges were announced.