San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Sentence Raised for U.S. Student’s Killer

The mother of Shannon Martin, a 23-year-old Kansas University student murdered in the southern Pacific port town of Golfito in 2001, expressed satisfaction and faith in the Costa Rican judicial system after judges on April 7 not only confirmed the sentences given to her daughter’s killers, but also increased one sentence by five years.

“There is fairness in Costa Rica, and I knew justice would prevail,” Jeanette Stauffer, Martin’s mother, told The Tico Times in an e-mail this week. “The judges at the hearing listened very intently and made their decision based on the facts and the attitude of the convicted killers.”

Luis Alberto Castro, also known as “Caballo,” was given an additional five years in prison, raising his sentence to 35 years, while his accomplice Kattia Cruz had her 30-year sentence reaffirmed, according to Judicial Branch spokeswoman Sandra Castro.

Both Castro and Cruz were found guilty on Nov. 24, 2003, of murdering Martin, and given 15 years each (TT, Nov. 28, 2003). On an appeal, their conviction on charges of homicidio simple – similar to second-degree murder – was changed to homicidio calificado – the highest degree of homicide in Costa Rican law – and they were given 30 years each. This second sentence, however, was then annulled by the Penal Branch of the Supreme Court (Sala III) in October 2005, and a new sentencing hearing was ordered.

According to the October ruling, two of the three judges who ruled on the first appeal were also present during the original trial, and should not have taken part in giving the new sentence.

According to Stauffer, during the April 7 hearing, Castro maintained his innocence and said he hoped Stauffer would come back to Costa Rica and beg his forgiveness when he is proven not guilty.

Cruz, however, apologized and asked for Stauffer’s forgiveness, though she implied she was not the one who killed Martin. Martin attended classes in Golfito as part of a study abroad program through her university in 2000. She returned in 2001 to visit and continue research for a university project, but two days after she arrived she was attacked and stabbed to death as she returned home from a bar she frequented during her first stay in the community (TT, May 19, 2001).

As part of Stauffer’s push to bring her daughter’s killers to justice, the bereaved mother repeatedly came to Costa Rica and visited Golfito, where she said she was touched by the support of the community.

In 2004, Stauffer, with help from the U.S. Embassy in San José, founded the Shannon Lucile Martin English-Language Center to offer free English and computer courses to residents (TT, Jan. 23, 2004).

Stauffer said she hoped the school would bring more opportunity to the community of Golfito, which she said is economically depressed and in need of support.

“To honor Shannon, it is my goal to bring opportunity to the people of Golfito by offering English classes,” Stauffer told The Tico Times shortly before the school opened in February 2004.


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