Costa Rica appeals court orders new trial for security guard who killed U.S. teen

August 19, 2013

Jorge Guevara, a hotel security guard who shot and killed 16-year-old U.S. tourist Justin Johnston after mistaking him for an intruder in June 2011, has won the right to a new trial even though a criminal court last September issued a 15-year prison sentence and ordered him to pay the family $650,000.

A Sentencing Appeals Court in San Ramón, Alajuela, northwest of the capital, ruled in favor of an appeal filed by Guevara’s attorney that claimed “the original trial court did not establish Guevara’s intent to kill Johnston.”

Johnston’s parents must now return to Costa Rica next month to participate in a new trial over their son’s death.

“The court’s ruling overturned the previous sentence and now a new trial is scheduled for September 16-27,” judicial branch spokeswoman Teresita Arana said.

On the morning of June 2, 2011, Justin Johnston and another student – part of a Spanish Club group from the United States – left La Cangreja Lodge in La Fortuna, San Carlos, a popular tourist destination in north-central Costa Rica, and returned after a group curfew. When they returned, the two students attempted to enter the hotel without being noticed, passing through an adjoining property with a barbed-wire fence, according to the Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ).

Jorge Guevara testified at trial that he fired a warning shot into the air, frightening the teenagers, who began running towards the hotel. He fired again in the direction of the students and fatally wounded Justin. Johnston’s parents say his classmate testified “there was no warning shot.”

“Devastating, we received the news of Guevara being granted a new trial from the appeals court on Justin’s birthday. We were actually at the cemetary,” John Johnston, Justin’s father, told a local Fox News affiliate in McLouth, Kansas – Justin’s hometown – last Friday.

“It’s possible that pressure measures related to the death of our son could be portrayed negatively related to the tourism within Costa Rica,” he said. “We’re very concerned that the process may not be above board.”

The Johnstons have spent more than $100,000 on both U.S. and Costa Rican attorneys, they told Fox News. They must now return to Costa Rica with Justin’s classmate, a key witness. John Johnston’s wife, Wendi, said, “The cost of justice won’t deter us.”

The parents said that before the first trial, witness statements were mistranslated, and they were asked to sign documents that misstated the facts in order to have their son’s body returned to the U.S.

“From the very start, we’ve been very concerned about what is happening within the country to allow things to be fair,” John Johnston said.

The Johnston’s have created a nonprofit foundation called “Remembering Justin” that has awarded $20,000 in college scholarships to McLouth, Kansas, high school students. 

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