For Immediate Release, January 27, 2015
Not Guilty Verdict in Murder of Costa Rican Sea Turtle Conservationist
Jairo Mora Provokes International Outrage
Judges Blame Botched Investigation, Handling of Evidence
SAN JOSE, Costa Rica— Seven men arrested in the brutal murder of Costa Rican conservationist Jairo Mora Sandoval and the kidnapping and sexual assault of four women, including one American, on the night of May 31, 2013 were found not guilty on Monday.
The Costa Rican court cited incomplete evidence, mishandling of evidence, and an ineffective investigation that provided reasonable doubt as its reason for their acquittal.
“We are outraged that nearly two years later, there has been no justice for the brutal murder of Jairo,” said Todd Steiner, biologist and executive director of Turtle Island Restoration Network (SeaTurtles.org), an international organization headquartered in California, but which has been operating long-term conservation projects in Costa Rica for nearly 20 years. “We call on the Costa Rican government to find and convict whoever is responsible for this heinous crime. Failure to do so can have serious consequences for conservation and ecotourism in this nation that has built its reputation on its peace with nature, safety of visitors and respect for the rule of law.”
Following the murder Turtle Island organized an international petition signed by more than 137,000 people, and working with the Center for Biological Diversity and others, organized protests around the world calling for justice for Jairo in the days following his murder. Turtle Island and the Center also organized a reward fund for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the perpetrators and a memorial fund to help his family.
“Jairo's brutal murder was an assault on those who protect endangered wildlife around the world. Justice for Mora is crucial to keeping wildlife and its defenders safe in Costa Rica, and we won’t rest until justice is served,” said Peter Galvin, the Center’s director of programs. “Justice for Jairo must include the creation of more national parks and refuges along the coast where sea turtles are safe and those who dedicate their lives to the conservation of endangered species can operate without fear for their lives.”
According to the Tico Times, Judge Yolanda Alvaredo attributed the not-guilty verdict to mishandling of evidence by investigators, prosecutors and preliminary courts. She also cited an incomplete investigation that was unable to determine with exactitude the identities of the perpetrators. “Lamentably the management of evidence broke the chain of proof in this case,” Alvaredo said.
Defendants surnamed Arauz, Salmón (brother of defendant Donald Salmón) and Loaiza will walk free, absolved of all crimes, while Hectór Cash, Ernesto Centeno, José Bryan Delgado and Donald Salmón will serve prison sentences for an earlier rape and robbery committed on the same beach. All seven defendants were acquitted of the May 31, 2013 kidnapping, robbery, sexual assault and murder that took place when Mora was killed.
Turtle Island Restoration Network (SeaTurtles.org) is an international marine
conservation organization headquartered in California whose 200,000 members and online activists work to protect sea turtles and marine biodiversity in the United States and around the world.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 800,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.