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Costa Rica court releases suspect accused of killing Spanish tourist

Arantxa Gutiérrez was strangled after being attacked near the beach at popular island of Tortuguero

Tortuguero beach in Costa Rica. GETTY IMAGES

Police and prosecutors in Costa Rica are racing to investigate the case of a Spanish tourist who was murdered on Saturday before the suspect, a citizen of Nicaragua, is released by immigration authorities.

The court in charge of the case has already ruled that there is insufficient evidence to place the alleged murderer in pre-trial custody. He is currently being kept in a temporary center for undocumented migrants and could get released or deported “at any moment,” according to immigration authorities.

Arantxa Gutiérrez, 31, was found dead near a beach on the popular island of Tortuguero

Arantxa Gutiérrez, 31, was found dead near a beach on the popular island of Tortuguero. She was there with her partner and a group of seven other Spaniards, all of whom were staying at a nearby hotel. Authorities suspect a sexual motive behind the attack, as Gutiérrez’s clothes had been torn off.

The victim, a physiotherapist who lived in San Fernando de Henares (Madrid), was strangled early Saturday morning as she went for a walk on the beach. The suspect worked at a nearby hotel and had been in Costa Rica for three months without proper legal status.

Witnesses who worked with the suspect said they saw him after 7am, shortly after the woman was attacked. He had also been seen having a short conversation with the victim the previous evening. He was arrested on Saturday, the day of the murder, but a court in Pococí determined on Monday that there was not enough evidence to send him to preventive prison. Immigration authorities have taken charge of the suspect, who could get released or deported “at any moment.”

Costa Rica prosecutor José Mena. EFE

“The situation is out of our hands, but we are making efforts to get things done quickly,” said José Mena, the prosecutor in charge of the case. “We have reiterated our request for preventive prison and are awaiting a decision from the court. Time is of the essence to gather more evidence. We are doing everything humanly possible.”

Mena said that investigators are reconstructing the events at the scene of the crime – a solitary path surrounded by dense vegetation – and analyzing biological fluids from the suspect and the victim. The autopsy found several scratches on her arms and neck, as well as evidence of strangulation.

The suspect, who worked as a gardener at a nearby hotel, had an early shift that coincided with the time that the victim was accosted, before 7am. That day he was late for work and was visibly nervous, according to his boss. Under interrogation, the suspect gave contradictory answers.

English version by Susana Urra.