Thrice-tried expat finally able to leave the country legally

Ann Patton Bender, the poster girl for judicial excesses in Costa Rica, finally left the country Saturday, but not before navigating another bump in the road courtesy of the courts.

Mrs. Bender, a U.S. citizen, is the woman who was tried three times in the 2010 death of her husband, John Bender, also a U.S. citizen.

A trial court acquitted Mrs. Bender of murder Sept. 7. The verdict was the second acquittal against one conviction in the three trials the woman endured.

A family member said that she boarded a 6:30 a.m. flight Friday, but airport police took her off the jet because the computer system still showed she could not leave the country. The computer systems appears not to have been updated to show her acquittal.

The family’s lawyer had to make a special trip to Pérez Zeledón in order to obtain a document showing that Mrs. Bender could leave the country legally.

Finally the woman was able to board a flight to Panamá and then one to the United States where she arrived in Miami, Florida, about 1:30 a.m. Saturday. Prosecutors had threatened to stage a fourth trial.

The couple’s stay in Costa Rica was not all pura vida even before the death of the husband. They lived on a sprawling private wildlife refuge, called Refugio de Vida Silvestre Boracayán, La Florida de Barú, Pérez Zeledón.

Bender was a math whiz who had a system for buying securities. He was known to make money going against conventional wisdom. At one time he ran the Amber Arbitrage Fund, but left the business after he suffered a stroke in 2000. The couple had tight security at the refuge and both carried firearms. They had been in Costa Rica for at least eight years when Bender died Jan. 8, 2010.

On April 30, 2001, Fuerza Pública officers from the local station intercepted Bender and his wife on a highway and carried them off to their offices on a trumped up immigration allegation. The men’s aim seemed to be to facilitate service of a U.S. legal document on Bender.

Even after Bender’s death, investigators cleaned out the couple’s mansion and then zeroed in on unmounted jewels to make a case for avoiding import duties.

And now Mrs. Bender has a case against a lawyer she accuses in a civil case of appropriating assets.

She spent time in Buen Pastor women’s prison and spent time after the shooting in a hospital.

Mrs. Bender was the only person present in the room when her husband died. She said she wrestled unsuccessfully with him to prevent his suicide. Prosecutors claimed she shot her husband, but there never was a firm motive.

In addition, the professionalism of the investigation was criticized.

The case has been the subject of U.S. television coverage.

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