A Costa Rican man sentenced to 35years in prison for the murder of a retiredU.S. citizen at a beach on the Pacificcoast of Costa Rica has been absolved ofthe charges by the Penal Branch of theSupreme Court (Sala III) after havingserved 16 months in prison.“In this case there were negative elementssince he was in preventive detention,but there was the fallback optionthrough the appeal. That is to say, therewas a control that allowed for the correctionof the mistake,” Judge Fernando Cruztold Radio Monumental.Jorge Martín, 44, a former bananaworker, unofficial taxi driver and shopassistant, was sentenced Sept. 23, 2004,for the death of 76-year-old U.S. hotelowner Percy Lee Wilhelm.Wilhelm was found dead Oct. 27,2003, in his house in Playa Naranjo, onthe Nicoya Peninsula in the central Pacificzone. He had died from brutal blows witha blunt weapon and asphyxiation (TT,Oct. 1, 2004).After Gutiérrez was charged with thecrime, his defense team appealed beforethe Sala III, which declared him innocentMarch 18 with a vote that ordered hisimmediate release.Gutiérrez was implicated in the caseby a cell phone that police say was stolenfrom Wilhelm the day of his death.The phone was found in a San Josépawnshop, the owner of which claimedGutiérrez had sold it to him. The owner’stestimony led to Gutiérrez’s conviction,though a DNA comparison of Gutiérrezand hairs found at the scene of the crimeproved negative.Gutiérrez told the daily La Nación itall came down to revenge, as years ago heand the pawnshop owner had problemsand the owner had warned him he wouldpay him back one day.Wilhelm, a native of Punta Gorda,Florida, owned the Hotel Oasis delPacífico at Playa Naranjo and the PianoBar in the Balmoral Hotel in San José. Hespent some 44 years traveling the worldas a Merchant Marine captain, spendingconsiderable time in Saudi Arabia andSingapore. He moved to Costa Rica in1982 with his wife Aggie.Aggie Wilhelm asks the questionbegged by Gutiérrez’s release – if nothim, then who killed her husband? sheasked the daily Al Día. It is unclear whatleads investigators might have, if any.
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