[See Desdemona’s coverage of this story: Jairo.]
29 March 2016 (AFP) – A Costa Rican court has sentenced four men to decades in prison for the 2013 murder of an environmentalist and the rape of four western female volunteers who were with him.
The judgment capped a nine-week retrial of seven men accused of killing Jairo Mora, a 26-year-old Costa Rican working to protect sea turtle nests on the country’s Caribbean coast.
The court in the eastern coastal city of Limón found four of the men – Hector Cash, Ernesto Centeno, Brayan Quesada and Donal Salmon – guilty of murder, illegal detention, sexual assault and aggravated robbery.
It handed down terms of 74 to 90 years for each of the four convicted men, but under Costa Rican law the lengthy sentences automatically revert to a maximum of 50 years each.
The three other men accused in the trial were acquitted.
The crime occurred on Moín beach, just to the north of Limón, on 31 May 2013. The savagery of the attack dealt a severe blow to the Central American country’s image as a safe, eco-tourist-friendly destination.
Prosecutors said the convicted men were part of a turtle-egg poaching gang who grabbed Mora. They beat him unconscious, tied him to a pickup truck and dragged him along the beach until he suffocated in the sand.
The four female volunteers with him – three Americans and a Spaniard – were tied up, held for hours and raped.
The retrial was ordered by an appeals court after the seven suspects were acquitted in a trial early last year because of police errors in handling the investigation.
By Lindsay Fendt
29 March 2016
LIMÓN (Tico Times) – A Limón court delivered guilty verdicts for four of seven defendants in the 2013 killing of sea turtle conservationist Jairo Mora and the kidnapping and robbery of four foreign volunteers. The same defendants were acquitted in a previous trial last year, but the verdict was overturned on appeal.
Héctor Cash, Ernesto Centeno, José Bryan Quesada and Donald Salmón were found guilty; Donald’s brother Darwin Salmón, Felipe Arauz and William Delgado were cleared of all charges. All seven defendants were acquitted on charges of sexual assault against one of the female volunteers captured with Mora because prosecutors were unable to prove which of the defendants had committed the assault.
The four men found guilty on Tuesday received sentences ranging from 74 to 90 years for both the crimes on the night of Mora’s murder and another rape and robbery that was tried at the same time. Each of those defendants will serve 50 years in prison, the maximum allowed by Costa Rican law.
In an explanation of the ruling that lasted more than two hours, the court’s panel of three judges highlighted Mora’s work with sea turtles as the primary motivation for his murder.
“The court rejects that there is any other motive for this murder,” said Carlos Álvarez, the trial’s chief judge. “The killing of Mr. Jairo Mora Sandoval was the straw that broke the camel’s back in this war that was taking place between poachers and environmentalists on the beach.”
At the time of his death, Mora was working as a sea turtle monitor for the conservation group Widecast, now renamed LAST, on the crime-ridden Moín Beach in Limón. Notoriously headstrong, Mora had gained a reputation on the beach as a vocal advocate against turtle egg poaching, earning himself enemies among the beach’s poaching gangs.
Despite receiving numerous threats from poachers, Mora and four foreign female volunteers headed to the beach on the night of May 30, 2013 in hopes of catching a glimpse of a leatherback sea turtle. On their way back to the rescue center where they worked, their car was overtaken by a group of men in masks.
The attackers beat Mora and threw him in the trunk of the conservationists’ car before taking the women to an abandoned house and sexually assaulting at least one of them. The men then took Mora to the beach where they stripped him, beat him and dragged him behind a car in the sand.
Judges said witness testimony from Almudena Amador, a Spanish veterinarian kidnapped with Mora, and the victims of the previous rape and robbery provided consistent physical descriptions of each of the accused men along with each of their roles within the gang. Recorded phone calls, text messages and a cell tower investigation also placed each of the men on the beach at the time of the murder. […]
In his closing remarks regarding the judges’ decision to give the defendants the maximum penalty for murder, 35 years, Álvarez again looked to Mora’s work with turtles as a critical factor.
“Jairo was someone dedicated to the environment,” Álvarez said. “This crime is more than just a horrible murder, it has also damaged Costa Rica’s reputation as a green country. It has scared away environmentalists.” [more]