For weeks John Markus Pennisi has had a Dalai Lama quote stuck in his mind, he said. The quote is about helping others and not harming them.
“Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them,” said the Dalai Lama.
Pennisi, 50, said the quote stuck with him because he is a helper. He said he has helped many in time of need. He has also gone through rough times where someone else was kind and helpful to him, he said.
He is the proud owner of New York Grill in La Fortuna. The eating spot has been voted the No. 1 restaurant in that area by TripAdvisor for two months now. The restaurant has been open for four months. He said he and his wife started off with about $4 in the register and now they can finally start to pay their bills, he said.
At one point in his life he and his wife had to go to a shelter to receive free powdered milk and a meal for their children, he said.. And now everything was going great. He had even called his mother back in the United States and said if he died he wanted his ashes spread in Costa Rica.
According to the New Jersey native everything was falling into place.
But Sunday changed the life of Pennisi. What started off as a regular Sunday morning turned into what could be considered one of the worst days in his life. He killed a man who was trying to steal his vehicle across from his restaurant in La Fortuna, Judicial agents reported that day.
Pennisi did not want to talk about the specifics Tuesday and noted he was deeply involved in a judicial process. Informal reports said that the thief was threatening the restaurant owner.
“I’m sorry for everything that happened . . . . I don’t wish no ill or harm to anyone,” Pennisi said in a telephone conversation as his voice cracked while he was holding back tears.
He is still in shock and disbelief about his actions. During the interview he couldn’t bring himself to say the words he killed a man.
“I don’t want anyone to think I could do that,” said Penissi. “I just want my life back. It was so beautiful.”
If convicted, he could face up to 15 years in jail. According to Rigoberto Rodríguez, the local police chief in San Carlos, officers received a 911 call around 10:30 a.m. for a public fight in La Fortuna. When the officers arrived Michael Mendoza, 32, was severely injured from multiple stab wounds, including one that was on the left side of his chest next to his heart, said the chief. Mendoza died moments later at the scene.
Pennisi was held overnight in jail and released Monday around 3:30 p.m. said his lawyer from the Defensa Pública. Pennisi was released on certain conditions, such as he had to turn in his passport, he can’t leave the country, and he has to check in with prosecutors every week. These are called medidas cautelares.
The police chief said Mendoza had prior encounters with police over drugs and robberies.
“Before Sunday, I felt like I was in the safest place in the world,” Pennisi said.
He has been in Costa Rica for 11 years. He met his wife the third day he came to the country. They now have two kids. He said he is non-violent and non-war.
“I moved to Costa Rica because there is no military. I know the meaning of pura vida,” said Pennisi. And now his actions and the homicide charge could end everything for him.
“I am so scared,” he said in a cracking voice.