San José, Costa Rica, since 1956
Mysterious tourist deaths

Costa Rican authorities to drop murder charges in death of US traveler

The Costa Rican Prosecutor’s Office has requested to dismiss an investigation into the 2013 killing of a U.S. tourist, according to court documents and the victim’s family.

In a document dated July 29, the Prosecutor’s Office said that it no longer intended to pursue first-degree murder charges against Aaron Alfaro Salazar and Juan José Martínez Segura for the killing of U.S. citizen Steven Flesch in the notorious slum of Torremolinos, Desamparados, south of San José.

Prosecutors cited a lack of evidence as a reason for dropping the case. A criminal judge in Desamparados has yet to rule on the request.

Flesch, a 32-year-old native of Brookfield, Wisconsin, was traveling alone in Costa Rica when he ended up in the Torremolinos slum, far off the tourist track, on the afternoon of April 2, 2013. It is not known why Flesch was in that neighborhood. A group of five — including three minors — attacked Flesch and tried to rob him, The Tico Times reported at the time. The group stole Flesch’s bag, which held a small laptop, digital camera, cell phone and personal documents.

Flesch fought with them before he was forced into an alley and shot in the back of the head, according to a report from the Judicial Investigation Police.

Flesch lay in San Juan de Díos Hospital in downtown San José, unidentified, for five days in a medically-induced coma. Finally two concerned traveling buddies — Kyle Eklund of Reno, Nevada and Ray Quinn of Ireland — showed up looking for him. He died at the hospital on May 7, 2013.

Ray Quinn, Kyle Eklund and Steven Flesch (from left to right) boating in Costa Rica in 2013.

(Courtesy Nikki Lannert)

More than two years after Flesch’s death, prosecutors were unable to secure testimony from two key witnesses, Prosecutor’s Office spokeswoman Karla Rivera said in an email.

According to emails from the U.S. Embassy to the Flesch family about the investigation, which the family shared with The Tico Times, the first witness is believed to have left Costa Rica and his whereabouts are unknown. A second witness, the embassy told the Flesch family, claimed that she did not see the crime and could not testify to Alfaro and Martínez’s involvement.

The suspects were arrested after the crime but were not held in custody. Both Alfaro and Martínez are free.

Only one of the three minors suspected of being involved in the attack was initially charged in connection with Flesch’s death. But all charges were dropped in April, also due to a lack of evidence, according to the Juvenile Criminal Court.

Nikki Lannert, Flesch’s sister, told The Tico Times that the family was shocked at the news that the Prosecutor’s Office had requested to drop all charges.

“We’re pretty upset,” Lannert said. “We expected that we were going to have to wait a long time but we did not expect to wait this long for nothing.”

Lannert reserved some of her ire for the U.S. Embassy in San José, which she accused of misleading them into thinking that the investigation was making progress. She said the family didn’t receive any information about the status of the investigation into Flesch’s killing until Lannert’s mother, Sharon Flesch, contacted embassy officials in May 2014.

Steven Flesch (top center) with his mother, Sharon; father, Don; and sister, Nikki Lannert.

(Courtesy Nikki Lannert)

The Prosecutor’s Office told the family it could file its own indictment, but Lannert said she didn’t have enough faith in the Costa Rican judicial system to pursue the case independently.

Lannert remembered her brother as the “life of the party,” positive and funny. Flesch was an avid golfer who saved his earnings working as a caddy to travel around the world.

He was an experienced traveler, visiting 42 countries in four years across Europe, Asia and Latin America. He had a knack for making fast friends, including Eklund and Quinn.

“He was the best friend anyone could ever have,” his sister said.

Last year the family held its first golf benefit in Flesch’s honor in New Berlin, Wisconsin, outside Milwaukee. The family raised $1,000 for golf scholarships for local high school students and plans to continue the tradition in the future, Lannert said.

With little hope for a legal resolution to her brother’s death, Lannert said she hopes his killers will get their due somehow. “I just have to believe in karma and that they will find their punishment in some other way.”

Contact Zach Dyer at zdyer@ticotimes.net

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MISSINGL

I will make it my personal goal to tell everyone not to travel to Costa Rica. I will tell them how unsafe and corrupt your county is. Wittiness cant talk because of gangs now maybe your country will be poor because of lack of tourism. Lack of evidence is due to lack of caring or lack of wanting to do their job. Very sad, very sad. Your country should be ashamed!!

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bizbigdan@hotmail.com

I have lived in Costa Rica for seven years. During the last two years I have seen the number of police at least triple and the rate of crime many violent skyrocket against Americans.
The Government also has seen fit to raise all kinds of taxes from luxury taxes, Corp. taxes, real estate taxes. They have destroyed the favorable business climate here with many American businesses leaving Costa Rica. such as Intel with 2000 jobs. many going to other Central American countries with a more favorable business climate
They are giving tourist spending money living here buying cars here and employing their people problems with their 90 day visa’s often giving them 10, 30 days.
They are giving residents problems bringing meds and vitamins into the country?????
Do you know that you cannot ship vitamins to Costa Rica??>
Any packages shipped to Costa Rica(this is just the last year) are now delivered to Puntarenas so you can spend two hours of more going to pick up a package depending where you live.
Costa Rica, as someone said,is “DESTROYING THE GOOSE THAT LAID THE GOLDEN EGG”
Why can’t the people responsible see what they are doing?? Why don’t they appreciate the Americans that have helped lift them out of poverty and raised their standard of living considerably??? Why don’t they appreciate us?? Why don’t they give us some incentives rather than hassling us and giving us a new tax?
What is wrong with them???

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Ken Morris

I’m not following the readers’ outrage over Costa Rica’s criminal justice system, much less the accusations of corruption, in response to this case.

The way I read it, Flesch was killed by some lowlife thugs, odds are at least marginally connected to drug gangs, and the two possible witnesses are frankly sensibly protecting their own hides by not testifying. I assume that if they testify they fear that they will be killed too. Actually, often as not the thugs threaten to kill their families too.

None of this is good, but I fail to see how Costa Rica’s criminal justice system is responsible. When one witness disappears and the other denies seeing anything, what are the authorities supposed to do?

I just don’t see any evidence that the authorities are in any way in on it. They could be, but without any evidence that they are, it strikes me as a fishing expedition to accuse them.

My heart goes out to the victim and his family, and to my mind that’s the long and the short of it.

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SDPUS

Quite possibly the readers’ outrage is based on their first hand experiences with the criminal justice system of Costa Rica. One would have to assume, based on your comment, that you have been intelligent enough or call it lucky enough to have no need to deal with the criminal justice system here.

Consider this: “In 2010 the US State Department reported that 235,000 criminal complaints were filed with the OIJ with only 4 percent (9,835 cases) going to trial and with a conviction rate of 61 percent. That means just 6,000 convictions or just 2.5 percent of the complaints filed”.

Now, if that is not the fault of CR’s criminal justice system, then where should the blame be placed? It is the supreme court who is responsible for funding OIJ. Certainly you are not suggesting that the victims and their families should be blamed. When such a big part of the national economics is based on tourism, I find it rather shameful that leadership can not do a better job of funding, hiring and training their personnel.

According to the former OIJ boss, Jorge Rojas Vargas, who retired in 2012- OIJ is severely underfunded and understaffed. But one must consider, why the hell has the country hired so many traffic cops in recent years, who obviously do not work after 5:00pm? Apparently traffic cops and tourist police are more important than OIJ. Why? They are suppose to be preventive in nature. It is OIJ who are suppose to handle the actual investigations. And a 2.5% conviction rate is pretty damn dismal. Solving crimes is evidently not very high on the priority list.

It is about priorities Ken. Costa Rica is well on their way to killing the goose that laid their golden eggs. And it is clearly evident, that the elites who run the show, are not too concerned with fixing what is very broken. Having pensions that pay upwards of $30K per month, when your average person in the country makes about $10K annually. That certainly is not a recipe for success, and with the countries current fiscal problems, it certainly shows that it is not sustainable. Take a look at the fat pensions of retirees from the Supreme Court, the same entity that is responsible for funding OIJ.

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pepe lopez

The only way you will see “tico’s in the streets in protest” is if the poor victim was a player for la liga or saprissa….then it’s a big deal,, but a tourist? never,,,

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soupydoupy

This is pathetic and outrageous. The Costa Rican people should be filling the streets in protest against the sham of their judicial system. Instead the only reason they protest is when they want more money in their jobs. The sick dysfunctional legal system here which lets major criminals go free is a prime reason NOT to live in Costa Rica. It is truly frightening to be at the mercy of a legal system that is so warped.

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SDPUS

This comment has been deleted.

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Keith Yoder

The Costa Rica experience of violence is growing for expats and travelers. The judicial system is a sham as evidenced by this and the Ann Patton debacle of a trial. It is evident that the people of Costa Rica have a high tolerance for violence against the travelers who come here. Sad.

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