After nearly three months of court proceedings that forced witnesses, victims and the country to relive one of Costa Rica’s most shocking incidents, in November Erlyn Hurtado was sentenced to 210 years in prison for his attempted bank robbery turned bloody hostage crisis in the sleepy tourist town of Santa Elena.
On March 8, 2005, Hurtado, a Nicaraguan, and his two brothers stormed a Banco Nacional branch, AK-47 assault rifles blazing, in the idyllic village at the edge of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve, high in the TilaránMountains. A guard shot and killed Hurtado’s brothers, but Hurtado managed to enter the bank. A 28-hour hostage crisis ensued, which ended with Hurtado’s surrender and nine people dead, including his two brothers, one police officer and six people who were in the bank.
The sentence, which was less than the 343 years asked for by prosecutors, will be reduced to 50 years, the maximum jail time allowed under Costa Rican law.
The court dismissed a civil suit, filed by survivors and the families of those who died, against the bank, the Costa Rican government, the National Insurance Institute and the security company Comandos de Seguridad Delta.
A congressional report on the police’s handling of the crisis criticized officials for delaying for hours attempts to enter the bank, and cited “powerful reasons” police should have moved in much sooner.