A criminal tribunal in Limón made the opposite decision Monday than that of another panel. As a result, four suspects in the murder of environmentalist Jairo Mora Sandoval were convicted.
Three other individuals were acquitted. The three-judge panel handed out sentences ranging from 74 to 90 years in prison to the four. The murder conviction represented 35 years, and additional crimes added to the total.
Under Costa Rican law the sentences cannot exceed 50 years, so the additional years represented a statement by the judges.
The crime happened on a May night in 2013 as Mora and four women were patrolling turtle nesting sites on the Moín beach.
The men who were convicted were Donal Salmon, Ernesto Rivas, Héctor Cash and José Bryan Quesada Cubillo.
This was a highly political trial because there was international outrage when the first trial ended in acquittals. The trial court then cited multiple errors on the part of investigators and prosecutors.
The Poder Judicial muddied the waters earlier in the month when it announced that the first panel of three judges would be investigated. That happened just as the second trial was in its final stages.
Mauricio Alvarez, a Universidad de Costa Rica professor and president of the Federación Conservacionista de Costa Rica, issued a statement commenting on the decision. He used the decision as a reason to seek the creation of a national park on the beach where Mora died instead of the new container handling facility and other projects planned for the area.
The case began May 31, 2013, when Mora and volunteers were confronted by men who took Mora away and held the volunteers hostage for a time in a nearby dwelling.
There was widespread surprise and condemnation Jan. 26, 2015, when the court in Limón acquitted the seven men. Lawmakers sought to cause the nation’s chief prosecutor to appear for a hearing, and even Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society chimed in from overseas and called Mora a hero.
The judges in the first trial said that both the prosecution and investigators lacked rigor in handling evidence including breaks in the chain of custody. Problems also existed in the presentation of the case of the three U.S. volunteers and a Spanish woman who were held hostage while Mora was dragged to his death at the nearby beach.
The first panel cited errors in the handling of wiretap results including a lack of attributing ownership of certain cell phones to the accused.