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Trial Begins for Bank Massacre Suspect

Approximately a year and a half after a bank robbery-turned-bloody standoff in the touristy village of Santa Elena shocked Costa Ricans and foreign tourists alike, the surviving suspect is facing trial.

The trial for Erlyn Hurtado – who held bank employees and clients hostage for 28 hours in a Banco Nacional bank in the idyllic village near the Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve, in north-central Costa Rica – began Monday and is expected to conclude in November, the daily La Nación reported.

Hurtado and two brothers, armed with AK-47 assault rifles, attempted to rob the bank March 8 of last year. As they approached the Banco Nacional, they opened fire, and a bank guard shot back, killing two of the brothers. Hurtado entered the bank, and so began a hostage crisis that was broadcast on national TV and extended until Hurtado gave himself up the next day.

Nine people died in the incident, including the two would-be robbers, six of the 33 people who were in the bank at the time, and one police officer (TT,March 11, 2005).

Hurtado is facing 23 charges, including six counts of first-degree murder, one count of aggravated kidnapping resulting in death and other charges, La Nación reported.

Survivors and the families of those who died in the incident are suing Banco Nacional, the National Insurance Institute (INS), the security company Comandos de Seguridad Delta, the Costa Rican government and Hurtado for ¢1.8 billion ($3.5 million) in damages, the daily said.

The trial is expected to conclude Nov. 17 and includes 54 witnesses.



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