High-profile murder retrial underway in Costa Rica for US expat Ann Patton

May 19, 2014
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Ann Maxin Patton, 43, was in court again today in San Isidro de El General for a retrial on charges that she murdered her husband, U.S. financier John Felix Bender, 44, in a bizarre incident at their jungle mansion in 2010.

Patton, born in Brazil, has always claimed Bender’s death, the result of a single gunshot wound to the neck, had been a suicide. A Costa Rican court had cleared her once of the charges, but an appeals court tossed out that verdict and ordered a retrial.

Upon entering the courtroom Monday morning, Patton said, “I hope justice in Costa Rica does its job, as it did the first time. I must trust this country’s justice system. My husband committed suicide and that’s what happened. All this is very painful to relive.”

Costa Rican prosecutor Edgar Ramírez, however, insisted Patton killed her husband as he slept. “We will demonstrate that there is convincing evidence, scientific proof that is irrefutable, “Ramírez said.

Asked by the court on Monday about her relationship with Bender, Patton described how the two met, how their relationship evolved and how it ended on a fateful night in January 2010.

Patton said she met Bender on March 15, 1998 at 4:30 p.m. “On that day it was love at first sight for both of us,” she said.

For the next two weeks she visited Bender where he was living, on a farm in the U.S. state of Virginia.

“Besides love at first sight, what made us such good friends, such good partners, were primarily our love for animals, a love for conservation, a love for any and all things that were conservationist in ethics and in action,” Patton said.

In the U.S., Bender worked from home as a hedge fund manager, and Patton became his personal assistant as he worked 18 hours a day, six days a week.

“This was John’s trust in me, and he seeing in me someone that he felt to be intelligent, useful, valuable, was an amazingly beautiful thing for me, just at a time when I needed it most,” Patton testified.

“After we met and fell in love I remember something that John told me, that he had never expected that it would happen to him. He had felt that he would never meet someone that he would want to spend the rest of his life with,” Patton said.

“Between when we met and when we decided to come to Costa Rica for the first time for me, which was November of ’98, over the course of that time we realized in our discussions the way we were living together, how successfully we were able to live and work together 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with the exception of when we had doctors appointments or the like,” she added.

According to Patton, at 30, Bender decided he would continue working a few years and then move to Costa Rica, where he planned to establish a wildlife refuge.

In March 2000, the couple moved to Costa Rica permanently, where they settled into 5,000 acres of land in the Southern Zone. They met and hired a lawyer, who also would become a fiduciary for the land deals in Florida de Barú, Pérez Zeledón.

In previous statements to the press, Patton has said the couples’ lives together began to change one year after moving to Costa Rica. She claimed they were attacked by corrupt police who had been hired by another U.S. citizen, who had sued Bender. To protect themselves, they bought firearms and allegedly obtained firearm permits.

They continued their plan of building a jungle paradise home and retreat, and in October 2004, construction of the Boyacarán wilderness refuge was complete.

But Patton testified that Bender’s estate trustee said he was quickly running out of money, and the death of some animals on the estate led Bender to believe he had failed at in his conservation efforts. Patton said her husband’s frame of mind quickly deteriorated and he became depressed. He also had a history of depression and bipolar disorder, she said.

Patton’s version of the events on Jan. 8, 2010 has remained consistent with her past statements: Her husband committed suicide and she fought with him that night in an unsuccessful attempt to wrestle the firearm away from him. Prosecutors, however, say she shot him.

In January 2013, a Costa Rican court agreed with Patton’s version of events, and the case was thrown out. But in August 2013, an appeals court in Cartago, east of the capital, annulled the previous ruling and ordered the court in Pérez Zeledón to schedule a new trial.

According to the appeals court, the penal court that first heard Patton’s case failed to correctly review evidence and alleged inconsistencies in Patton’s testimony.

Prosecutors say that when Bender died, he was wearing earplugs, had three pillows under his head, and his legs were flexed in a sleeping position. They claim it is illogical that he would shoot himself in that position. They also say there were no signs of gunpowder residue on Bender’s hands, while Patton allegedly wiped her hands with napkins after the shooting. Those napkins revealed traces of gunpowder, prosecutors claim.

Patton has Lyme disease, and to alleviate symptoms she took intravenous morphine, she testified, along with an anticoagulant and antibiotics. She also is bipolar, and takes clonazepam and alprazolam.

The trial is expected to last a week.

The case is featured in a special CNN investigation titled, “Love & Death in Paradise.” Watch a trailer here:

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