5 things to know about the new Jairo Mora murder trial

January 23, 2016
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On Monday morning in a courtroom in the Caribbean city of Limón, judges will call to order a second trial for the 2013 slaying of Costa Rican sea turtle conservationist Jairo Mora. The trial comes more than a year after seven men were acquitted by the same court due to errors in the investigation and the prosecution of the case. Last August, an appeals court overturned prior not-guilty verdicts to allow prosecutors one more shot at convicting seven alleged poachers suspected of the crime. Here are some facts you need to know to follow the upcoming trial:

1. There is no double jeopardy in Costa Rica

In Costa Rica both the defense and prosecution have a right to appeal a case. Following a not-guilty verdict, the Limón Prosecutor’s Office and Jairo Mora’s family lawyer, Rodrigo Araya, filed an appeal and won the right to a new trial with a panel of three different judges. Despite the acquittal of all seven defendants – Ernesto Centeno, Felipe Arauz, José Bryan Quesada, Héctor Cash, William Delgado and brothers Donald and Darwin Salmón – in the first trial, they will be tried again.

2. The court also will retry a separate case heard at the same time as the original murder trial

Along with the Mora killing, five of the defendants also are charged with rape and robbery in a separate case. Prosecutors linked the two cases because the perpetrators of both crimes used similar methods in the same area. Although the seven defendants were acquitted of Mora’s murder in the first trial, Centeno, Quesada, Cash and Donald Salmón were convicted in a separate case. With the appeal, that conviction also is annulled, and the court will issue a new ruling in that case as well.

3. Three of the defendants will be free during the trial

Arauz, Delgado and Darwin Salmón, three defendants who were not convicted of rape and robbery charges, have been free since the first trial and will remain so for this trial’s duration. The remaining defendants are in prison serving the beginning of sentences while the appeal was granted. Although their convictions were technically annulled, they remain in prison serving preventive detention until the end of the next trial.

4. The new trial may allow evidence excluded in the last trial

The three-judge panel in the original murder trial ruled large chunks of the prosecution’s phone investigations inadmissible. Judges ruled out one disc containing audio of telephone conversations and transcripts of text messages of the suspects allegedly discussing the crime because prosecutors failed to officially log it as evidence at the start of the trial. Judges ruled another audio disc inadmissible because investigators had not filtered out impertinent conversations, which violated defendants’ rights to privacy, they said. Judges also excluded the telecommunications investigation, which prosecutors considered the backbone of their case. Judges said the investigation could not be used because it was not opened for judicial review before the trial.

In August, the prosecution argued for an appeal based on these exclusions, arguing that the investigations were legal and admissible.

“The appeals court agreed with us,” Mora’s family attorney, Rodrigo Araya, told The Tico Times. “We are convinced that the three new judges will recognize the decision by the appeals court and will allow all of the evidence that was excluded in the first trial.”

5. This is the last chance for these suspects to be convicted of Jairo Mora’s killing

Costa Rican law only allows the prosecution one chance to appeal an acquittal. If the defendants are found not-guilty again in this trial, that verdict will stand. If judges allow all of the evidence to be heard, prosecutors are confident this new trial will result in a conviction.

“The evidence we have is enough for a conviction,” Araya said. “This time, I’m sure justice will be served.”

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