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Latin America

Outrage in Costa Rica over acquittals in ecologist’s murder trial

Judge describes investigation carried out by police and prosecutors as “irresponsible”

Ecologists demand justice for Jairo Mora, who was murdered in 2013.
Ecologists demand justice for Jairo Mora, who was murdered in 2013. REUTERS

No sooner did a judge begin reading the acquittals of the defendants accused of murdering Costa Rican environmentalist Jairo Mora in May 2013 than the social networks began to buzz.

And it wasn’t just a brief, heated flurry of messages; it was the beginning of a week-long wave of frustration expressed across the country by many sectors who are proud of their conservation work, but now say Costa Rica’s environmental protection campaigns are less safe than in other neighboring countries and lack judicial protection.

There was a lot of pressure during the murder trial to avoid impunity – something that seemed difficult to accomplish following a series of investigative errors committed by the criminal court in Limón province.

Before the verdict was reached on Thursday, many expressed their concerns that justice would not be served. Among them, environmental activists, politicians from both the ruling and opposition parties, legal experts, family members, the local office of the United Nations, and the young Spanish veterinarian who that night had patrolled the beach of Moín with Mora in search of turtle-egg poachers.

Seven were acquitted of planning the murder, though four of them were found guilty of lesser charges

Even Costa Rican Environmental Minister Édgar Gutiérrez was upset by the investigators’ “lack of expertise.”

Seven defendants were acquitted of planning Mora’s murder, aggravated robbery and kidnapping, even though four of them were found guilty of lesser charges related to crimes committed in Moín.

In reading the sentence, Judge Yolanda Alvarado described the investigation carried out by police and prosecutors as “unfortunate,” “irresponsible,” and “biased.” An appeal is expected in this “historic case,” she said.

Under scrutiny for years, Attorney General Jorge Chavarría is once again under pressure and now admits that trust in the Costa Rican justice system is in doubt. He also knows that Mora’s murder has been the most notorious of the 453 homicides committed in 2014 or the 411 that took place in the same year the activist was killed.

Mora, 26, drowned in rising water and sand following a severe beating he sustained, according to the autopsy. He had received many death threats in the past.

During a public demonstration, protestors laid a symbolic coffin in front of the Supreme Court in San José.

Jairo Mora’s father believes that no one will be held responsible for his son’s murder

Jairo Mora’s father has lost all hope. He believes that no one will be held responsible for his son’s murder.

“I didn’t like the way things were turning out from the beginning,” he told Costa Rican daily La Nación as he stood in front of his son’s grave in the small town of Gandoca, on the country’s southern Caribbean coast. It was here on the beach that Mora developed an unscrupulous passion for protecting endangered leatherback turtles from poachers.

“It is inconceivable that a 26-year-old man cannot practice his vocation for protecting the environment without risks,” the newspaper said in an editiorial.

Paul Watson, the controversial Canadian environmental activist who has an outstanding arrest warrant in Costa Rica for attacking fishing boats on the Pacific in 2002, also reacted to the acquittals.

“We understand that the Court issued a judgment of acquittal justified by errors which took place during the investigation of the case. However, we strongly appeal to the judicial prosecutors and investigators to not continue making such mistakes that allow murderers to kill with impunity,” he said in a statement.

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