A Cartago appeals panel has made the obvious decision that the conviction of Ann Patton was flawed. And the panel ordered a new trial.
This will be the third time that Ms. Patton, the widow of multimillionaire John Bender, is the accused in a murder trial if prosecutors choose to go to court again. She was acquitted once, but that verdict was reversed on appeal. Then she was convicted May 27, 2014, in a trial in which some of the witnesses altered their testimonies.
The Benders lived at a 5,000-acre private wildlife refuge in La Florida de Barú de Pérez Zeledón in a five-story 8,000-square-foot glass-walled showplace home.
A trial court Jan. 21, 2013, gave the benefit of the doubt to Mrs. Bender. She was set free because judges said that there was not sufficient evidence that she had killed her husband.
Bender was said to be bipolar and had attempted suicide once before. However, prosecutors appealed the decision.
A second new trial panel in Peréz Zeledón convicted the woman and imposed a sentence of 22 years and remanded her to prison. She finally got out this week based on the order of the Tribunal de Apelación de Sentencia de Cartago.
The woman’s case has received international publicity.
Bender died Jan, 8, 2010, in a room where the only other person present was his wife. She testified she tried to stop his suicide. Prosecutors said she did it but did not define a motive.
CBS news hired a husband and wife team of forensic experts who raised serious doubt about the investigation and the evidence that was used to convict the woman. They said that the testimony of Ms. Patton was plausible. She, too, is a U.S. citizen.
Prosecutors based much of their case on the location where the bullet entered the head and that this would have been difficult for a left-handed person.
Those close to the case note that Bender could use both hands well and that there is a photo showing him wearing a pistol holster on his right side. They also questioned the testimony of Gretchen Flores Sandí, a medical examiner, and said that she changed her testimony between the two trials.
The transcript of the second trial shows that Dr. Flores relied on word of mouth from someone she does not remember to conclude that Bender was left-handed.
The CBS experts said that investigators also failed to photograph the scene correctly, test the blood stains on the bed sheets or even fingerprint the gun.
The Poder Judicial released a brief resolution by the appeals panel Thursday afternoon. The resolution only said that the verdict was ineficacia without elaborating.
That means there was something wrong. Ms. Patton also was ordered to continue to sign in with prosecutors regularly and to continue to leave her passport in the custody of law enforcement.
More than a year passed between Ms. Patton’s first trial and her second. If prosecutors seek a third trial, the date might be sometime in 2016.