- On Tuesday, a Costa Rican court sentenced four of the seven men accused to 74-90 years in jail for murder and kidnapping, but they will each serve a maximum of 50 years as permitted by Costa Rican law.
- They were also sentenced for another robbery, and rape of a Costa Rican woman committed around the same time.
- According to the judges presiding over the case, Mora’s work with sea turtles was the primary motivation for his murder.
On May 30 2013, Jairo Mora Sandoval, a sea turtle conservationist, and four women volunteers were kidnapped by a group of men at gunpoint on Moin beach near Limón, Costa Rica. The women (three Americans and one Spaniard), who were reportedly held in an abandoned house for several hours and sexually assaulted, eventually escaped. But Mora, who had been beaten, tied to a pickup truck and dragged along the beach, died of asphyxiation. He was 26 at the time.
On Tuesday, a Costa Rican court sentenced four of the seven men accused — Héctor Cash, Ernesto Centeno, José Bryan Quesada and Donald Salmón — to 74-90 years in jail for murder and kidnapping. They were also sentenced for another robbery, and rape of a Costa Rican woman committed around the same time. But they will each serve a maximum of 50 years as permitted by Costa Rican law. Three of the accused men — Darwin Salmón, Felipe Arauz and William Delgado — were acquitted for lack of evidence.
According to the judges presiding over the case, Mora’s work with sea turtles was the primary motive for his murder. Mora had come into conflict with gangs of poachers targeting sea turtle eggs, which are considered an aphrodisiac. The sea turtle egg trade in Costa Rica is sometimes linked to drug trafficking.
“The court rejects that there is any other motive for this murder,” said Carlos Álvarez, the trial’s chief judge, according to the Tico Times. “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.”
“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,” Álvarez said, according to the Tico Times report.
This guilty verdict comes after all seven defendants were acquitted during a previous trial last year. The judges ruled that the police and prosecution mishandled evidence such as telephone recordings and transcripts of text messages, making them inadmissible in court.
The prosecution, however, appealed the verdict and won a new trial.
Meanwhile, the Court of the Judicial Inspection has opened a disciplinary case against the judges that were part of the first trial for “wrongfully refusing to accept essential evidence.” But a Costa Rican judges guild has denounced the investigation.