San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Prison guards suspected in beating death of jailbreak ringleader

President Laura Chinchilla confirmed Thursday morning that Johel Araya, leader of last month’s botched prison break, died as a result of physical injuries and not of natural causes, the daily La Nación reported. Jorge Rojas, director of the Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) said that Araya’s death was caused by blunt force to the head.

Araya, 45, died on May 22 in his cell at La Reforma maximum security prison in Alajuela, northwest of San José. His death came 10 days after a failed prison break from La Reforma that resulted in the deaths of two prisoners and a guard.

On Thursday, 10 guards were named as suspects in Araya’s death and placed on administrative leave.

Two days before his death Araya submitted a document to the Sala IV, alleging beatings from guards and asking the judges of the Sala IV “to stop what is happening. They are killing me slowly.”

Chinchilla said that OIJ investigators confirmed that Araya died from physical abuse after seeing a coroner’s report. She also said efforts need to be made to combat the “negative image” of Costa Rica’s prison system.

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