A Costa Rican court has ruled in favor of Nicole Kater, who faces charges in the United States of international parental abduction, the second time in two months this country has struck down a U.S. request for extradition in such a case.
Police arrested 28-year-old Kater near LakeArenal, in the northwestern province of Guanacaste, in April, after an investigation between U.S. Bureau of Diplomatic Security, Interpol and Costa Rican law officials, almost three years after Kater fled with her daughter to Costa Rica during a custody dispute with the child’s father, John Gehl, in Humboldt, California.
Gehl applied for custodial rights for their daughter in 2005, and the Humboldt County Superior Court ordered Kater not to leave the county until a scheduled hearing on the issue could occur.
Twelve days before the hearing in August, however, Kater flew to Costa Rica with her daughter. The United States issued a warrant for her arrest the following December, and the court awarded Gehl custody.
The Costa Rican National Institute for Women (INAMU), however, claims that Kater had Gehl’s signed authorization to travel here, and that the mother and daughter entered Costa Rica legally, settling in Cóbano, on the southern tip of the NicoyaPeninsula, to start a new life.
The daughter, Tierra Zion Gehl-Kater, was born in Costa Rica in November 2000 while Gehl and Kater were living here and has Costa Rican citizenship.
A judge from the San José court for childhood and adolescence awarded Gehl custody early last month.
Held in San José’s Buen Pastor prison since her arrest in April, Kater filed for refugee status here in late July, claiming to be a victim of domestic violence.
That came shortly after the arrest of another U.S. woman in a similar case, Chere Lyn Tomayko, who also sought protection in Costa Rica from what she described was a violent relationship with her child’s father back in the United States. The U.S. request to extradite Tomayko was rejected.
The Tomayko case was the first time Costa Rica had granted asylum to anyone based solely on domestic violence claims, Immigration Director Mario Zamora told The Tico Times in August, and U.S. judicial officials involved in Tomayko’s case openly questioned the basis for evidence of that decision not to extradite (TT, Aug. 8).
The U.S. Embassy has a two-month window during which it can appeal the decision by the Criminal Court of Puntarenas to a higher court.
Kater must wait in preventive prison until late November for that appeal period to expire until she can go free.
INAMU, which has been supporting Kater on the matter, would not comment on the case at this time. The U.S. Embassy referred questions to the U.S. Justice Department, whose representatives were not available at press time.