The prosecution rested its case Tuesday in the trial of seven men accused of murdering 26-year-old sea turtle conservationist Jairo Mora nearly two years ago on a northeastern Costa Rican beach.
Prosecutors allege that on May 31, 2013, the seven defendants kidnapped Mora and four foreign volunteers while they were working to save sea turtle eggs on Moín Beach on the Caribbean coast. According to prosecutors, the defendants belonged to a poaching gang and had been engaged in a feud with Mora over sea turtle eggs for more than a year before they killed him.
Prosecutors asked the panel of three judges for the maximum of 35 years for each of the seven defendants charged with Mora’s murder. Defendant Darwin Salmon also faces additional charges of aggravated robbery and kidnapping on the night of Mora’s murder, which carries an additional penalty of 25 years. Four of the defendants also are charged with aggravated robbery and kidnapping in a separate, but related, rape and robbery on the same beach several nights earlier. For those crimes, prosecutors asked for an additional 79 years for José Bryan Quesada and Ernesto Rivas, 43 years for Donald Salmon – Darwin’s brother – and 101 years for Héctor Cash.
The trial has been delayed twice from its original Dec. 5 deadline due to the loss and mishandling of three sets of evidence. While the court was able to recover a misplaced disk of telephone recordings, judges were forced to exclude two other pieces of evidence. A bottle of cologne used in the investigation to identify one of the suspects was ruled inadmissible because the two other bottles used in the investigation were lost, and a disk of telephone recordings from one of the defendant’s phones was excluded because a judge from a preliminary court failed to filter out unrelated phone conversations, violating the privacy of the defendant and his callers.
Further damaging the prosecutors’ case, judges also excluded part of the Judicial Investigation Police’s (OIJ) telephone investigation because prosecutors could not show that it underwent judicial review. The excluded information was the cornerstone of the OIJ’s investigation and allowed prosecutors to show where the suspects were located on the nights in question, based on which cellphone towers were activated during their calls.
Defense attorneys began closing arguments on Tuesday afternoon, and according to defense attorney Jadiel Quesada, the judges are expected to reach a verdict on Friday.