San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Park ranger to serve 12-year prison sentence for attempted murder

After losing an appeal, Costa Rican Park Ranger Mauricio Steller, 32, turned himself in to prison guards Wednesday to begin a 12-year sentence. Steller was convicted last August of the attempted murder of Alix Castro Chavarría, who was caught poaching sea turtle eggs during a 2009 ranger patrol of Playa Carate in the southern Pacific Osa Peninsula.

During the patrol, Steller shot Castro in the chest with his service weapon, paralyzing 70 percent of Castro’s body. Both Steller and his patrol partner claim that the shot was in self-defense, after Castro and two men attacked the rangers with machetes.

Because of the remoteness of Playa Carate, authorities did not immediately search the scene and did not recover any machetes. The prosecution presented six witnesses — most of whom were Castro’s family members — who testified that Steller fired his gun without provocation.

Steller’s conviction last year spurred a wave of protests from environmental groups and employees of Costa Rica’s National System of Conservation Areas (SINAC), who wanted clarification over park rangers’ right to use force. Though park rangers are supposed to enforce environmental laws and are often issued guns, their legal right to use them remains ambiguous.

Because they are not covered by the General Police Law, park rangers who use their guns on the job receive the same scrutiny as any civilian self-defense case. SINAC is also prohibited from providing its employees with a lawyer even when criminal charges stem from on-the-job duties.

After the conviction, Steller appealed the charges and was allowed to continue working while awaiting a final verdict. Just before the appeal, as calls for a presidential pardon for Steller were beginning to gain traction, it came to light that the ranger was also under investigation for his alleged involvement in a drug case potentially related to a triple murder.

With the appeal now rejected, Steller will serve the 12-year sentence he was convicted of last August. Steller’s lawyer, Roberto Zamora, told that they are considering taking the case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Contact Lindsay Fendt at

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Twelve years seems steep for a man protecting himself from men with machetes. Reeeal steep. On the other hand, twelve years is pretty lenient for a man who shot somebody for endangering wildlife.

Appreciate the journalist’s reporting greatly, unfortunately, sounds like we will never know how events really transpired. Testimony on behalf of Castro from family members is clearly biased unless they were witness to the crime. Allegations of a separate crime that Stellar may or may not have been involved in are absolutely irrelevant. Hopefully there is more to this case to justify caging a man for twelve years.

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Rick Nelson

How many times would the ranger have to have abused authority or been a criminal himself in order for it to be relevant? …Just wondering.

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