San José, Costa Rica, since 1956
Jairo Mora

NOT GUILTY: 7 men acquitted of murder of Costa Rica sea turtle conservationist Jairo Mora

Update, 6:46 p.m., Jan. 26, 2015:

Early Monday evening, Broad Front Party lawmaker Edgardo Araya filed a motion in the Legislative Assembly’s Environmental Commission to call Costa Rica’s Chief Public Prosecutor Jorge Chavarría to testify before the commission regarding “the omissions by the Prosecutor’s Office in the Jairo Mora case,” according to a post on Araya’s Facebook. “No more impunity,” Araya stated.

Original story continues here:

LIMÓN — After three months of trial marked by continuous delays and setbacks, a Limón court on Monday morning acquitted seven men of the murder of 26-year-old sea turtle conservationist Jairo Mora on the night of May 31, 2013, citing reasonable doubt, discarded evidence and an ineffective investigation.

Defendants surnamed Arauz, Salmón (brother of defendant Donald Salmón) and Loaiza will walk free, absolved of all crimes, while Hectór Cash, Ernesto Centeno, José Bryan Delgado and Donald Salmón will serve prison sentences for a prior rape and robbery on the same beach. All seven defendants were acquitted of the kidnapping, robbery, sexual assault and murder that took place on the night of May 31, 2013, when Mora was killed.

Lawmaker Edgardo Araya’s motion to force Chief Public Prosecutor Jorge Chavarría to appear before a legislative commission.

(Via Edgardo Araya Facebook)

That night, a band of masked men captured Mora, who worked at a nearby wildlife refuge, along with four foreign volunteers from Moín Beach near Limón, on Costa Rica’s northern Caribbean coast. The group  had gone to the beach to collect leatherback sea turtle eggs to rebury them safely away from the poachers that frequented Moín. As the group was returning to the sanctuary, they encountered a log blocking the road, and when Mora exited the car to remove it, he was ambushed by a group of masked men. The men took the four women to an abandoned house, while Mora was taken to the beach, beaten and dragged naked behind a car. He died of asphyxiation in the sand. 

Following the verdict, Jairo Mora’s parents, Rafael Mora and Fernanda Sandoval, were too visibly upset to comment to a Tico Times reporter.

The prosecution alleged that the seven defendants were members of a known poaching gang and murdered Mora because of his role protecting turtles on the beach. Judges cited the legal principle of in dubio pro reo, which means the court must rule in favor of defendants when reasonable doubt exists.

In her explanation of the verdict, Judge Yolanda Alvarado said the mishandling of evidence by investigators, prosecutors and preliminary courts contributed to this doubt. She also cited an incomplete investigation that was unable to determine with exactitude the identities of the perpetrators.

“Lamentably the management of evidence broke the chain of proof in this case,” Alvarado said.

That mishandling of evidence led to the exclusion of three key pieces of evidence from the prosecution’s case. These included bottles of cologne that were  lost in evidence, a recorded disc of telephone conversations that was not properly reviewed by a preliminary court judge, and cellphone tower investigations that also did not undergo judicial review. The Tico Times had reviewed much of this evidence for a previous in-depth report on the case. Read that related story, “Why Jairo died,” here.

“This failure shows that we have a Prosecutor’s Office in this country that is not functioning properly,” Gerardo Vargas, a Broad Front Party leader, told Costa Rica’s Radio Monumental. “We have a Prosecutor’s Office that doesn’t do a good job. We have a Prosecutor’s Office that doesn’t even try.”

A selfie posted to Facebook by defendant Héctor Cash in 2013.

The Tico Times

The four defendants convicted of kidnapping, raping and robbing a Costa Rican couple and their young nephews nearly two weeks before Mora’s murder were sentenced as follows:

  • Donald Salmón: 27 years in prison for aggravated robbery, rape and kidnapping.
  • Héctor Cash: 23 years for aggravated robbery, kidnapping and sexual abuse.
  • José Bryan Delgado: 17 years for aggravated robbery and kidnapping.
  • Ernesto Centeno: 17 years for aggravated robbery and kidnapping.

According to defense attorney Jadiel Quesada, one primary reason for the not-guilty verdict was that no one was “able to recognize” beyond reasonable doubt the perpetrators and identify them in court.

Quesada told The Tico Times: “It’s very easy to recognize four people when they are in the position [the defendants] were in [at trial] – seated and handcuffed behind their lawyers and surrounded by police agents. In that situation, it’s very easy to point the finger, … which is why we [the defense team] feel the poorly managed investigation should also extend to all the charges in the two cases. But we believe that for social reasons, it was necessary to find someone guilty of something, and for that reason we will appeal [the convictions].”

In a statement issued shortly after the verdict, the Costa Rican Supreme Court noted that the Mora case technically is still “open,” and the same defendants could be re-tried if more evidence is presented that could lead to their convictions. Under Costa Rican law, prosecutors have two opportunities to appeal.

Rodrigo Araya, an attorney representing Mora’s family, told online news site that he felt “an absolute sense of impunity,” and that he would appeal the ruling, which he said was based on technicalities.

The news site also reported that a protest to denounce the trial’s outcome is scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 29, in front of the court complex in downtown San José.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which named one of their ships after Mora last year, also released a statement declaring their intention to expand operations to Moín Beach on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast this year to continue Mora’s work, but Mora’s close friend and fellow sea turtle advocate, Vanessa Lizano, says it’s too late.

“I think it is more hurtful right now for people to try to help when it is just too late,” she told The Tico Times on Monday. “It gets me angrier that they didn’t help before.”

Follow updates at


Costa Rican sea turtle conservationist Jairo Mora speaks with children at a local school. He was killed in May 2013.

(Courtesy Widecast)

Contact Lindsay Fendt at

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Why doesn’t President Solis set up a special committee to investigate the mishandling of this trial. Justice…ha….I just received a parking ticket in a yellow zone in Bagaces, Gte. that cost me 51,500 *@!!* COLONES!!!! Ladrones!!!!!!!!!!

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Dan Gibson

JUst look for the new ”cars” — ”homes” — ”ATV’s” — recently purchased by the judges — attorneys — etc etc etc == and you will know exactly what kind of ”justice” was handed out — in this case — ”dinero justice”!!!!!

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It’s really disgusting, this verdict. Especially when you read that phone records were “lost!”
Can anybody spell: corruption? It’s so completely obvious. Turtles and environmentalists are not safe in Costa Rica!!!
My heart goes out to this young man’s family, along with the surviving victims and their families.
Shame on the judge in this case…. shame!

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Tea Tree

Phone records don’t get lost. Maybe a print out of phone records, but not the records themselves. Just more clear that, on the surface, Costa Rica is promoted as this environmentally friendly and conscientious place. But there is enough corruption that allows the poaching on the coast and in the rain forests. This government will spend endless time and resources on writing up tickets, and taxing everything that comes into the country by land, sea or air. But they won’t put lifeguards on the beach to stem the exorbitant number of drownings, or stop the poaching, or even put a qualified team of investigators and lawyers on all the many, many missing tourists and expat cases. They should be embarrassed and ashamed.

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Surprised? Perhaps not the word. Certainly disheartened.
Is it time to defend the turtle as now is done for the rhino.
Personally, I have more affinity for the lives of animals than the poachers.
Is there a sister ship of the Sea Shepard that has armed environmentalists?
That is where my conservation dollar support will go.

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The people and animals of Costa Rica are not safe from criminals at large and criminals in offices.
If Costa Rica places no value on Marine Life such as Sea Turtles, Dolphins, Sharks, Fish then we will lose it all.
We all lost Jairo Mora because he was alone and not valued, just like the turtles and the sharks he was killed for profits. No one cared Enough about Jairo Mora until he was murdered.
Jairo Mora will be a martyr for Costa Rica Wildlife Conservation for decades.
People that protect and conserve Costa Rica wildlife should be safe and protected.
Seven accused Murderers walking free is sending the wrong message to the World.
Who is going to be the next victim? When will the murderers kill again? Who will they kill next?
The verdict and the acquittal is a sad commentary of the Nation of Costa Rica, a shame and a disgrace for all involved in the horrible murder of a peaceful man.
The World is watching and choosing where to spend Eco-Tourist Dollars, not at a safe haven for the murder of conservationists.

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Georgina Burns

I have just read this and I find it heartbreaking. Your are correct in saying the World is watching, I am writing from Spain.
Vaya mierda de justicia!
Toda esta gentuza tenia que desaparacer, son escoria
de la humanidad!
Jairo Mora is on my list of Heroes.

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I’ve read this article a number of times since it was posted. I cannot get past the anguish this family must be going through, especially tonight. Their nightmare continues.

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This will spread within the environmentalist community. I can see this having a potentially negative impact on the tourism of Costa Ría. Something this country cannot afford now as they are in a financial crisis currently.

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This is where Costa Rica is heading Corupt Justice ministry and very dishonest goverment. The average person in Costa Rica knows that they can get killed for nothing and there will be no justice. Corupt goverment in Costa Rica. Shame on where Costa Rica is heading.

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Vicente Peña Aldrete

Con profunda tristeza los ambientalistas de nuestro grupo nos enteramos del veredicto, no hay justicia para Jairo solo la ley del mas fuerte predomina en las playas de anidación, mis mas sinceras condolencias a los familiares de Jairo y al pueblo de Costa Rica.

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Is anyone REALLY surprised by this outcome????????????
(anyone question if this was REALLY about turtles – vs drugs???)

& you wonder why the majority of people I’ve talked to that have had crimes inflicted on them (which I’ve heard a LOT [because of my blog]) don’t report them thinking “Why bother. What’s the use”.
Yet another negative that will hurt Costa Rica in the eyes of the world BIG TIME.

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