San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Monteverde Bank Massacre Trial in Final Stage

The trial against Erlyn Hurtado, the Nicaraguan man accused of killing seven people during a botched bank robbery turned hostage crisis last year, is in its final stage.

Prosecutors have asked that Hurtado be given 343 years and 10 months in prison for seven counts of homicide and injuries and multiple counts of weapons possession and aggravated robbery, the daily La Nación reported. His defense lawyers have asked for the minimum sentence of 40 years.

Since the trial opened Sept. 4 (TT, Sept. 8), Costa Rica has relived the incident with new detail as witnesses tell their story in court and national media broadcast their testimony and images from the 28-hour standoff.

On March 8, 2004, Hurtado and two brothers approached the Banco Nacional branch in Santa Elena, a small town below the Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve in the TilaránMountains, northwest of San José. According to the guard on duty, Álvaro Castro, and witnesses, the Hurtado brothers, armed with AK-47 assault rifles, opened fire as they approached the bank.

The bank guard returned fire, hitting and killing two brothers in the street in front of the bank. Hurtado entered the building and kept 33 people inside hostage for 28 hours (TT,March 11, 2005).

The crisis concluded March 9 after Hurtado gave himself up. By then, nine people had died, including his two brothers, a police officer and six people who were in the bank at the time of the assault.

Several of the victims died from blood loss in the hours that ensued, leading some to criticize the police for taking too long to intervene.

Much of the standoff was broadcast around the country live, shocking viewers and residents of the peaceful community of Monteverde.

Survivors and the families of those who died in the incident are also suing Banco Nacional, the National Insurance Institute (INS), the security company Comandos de Seguridad Delta, which provided security to the bank branch, the Costa Rican government and Hurtado for ¢1.8 billion ($3.5 million) in damages, La Nación reported.


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