Updated at 2:19 p.m. Nov. 7
Judges in the murder trial of seven defendants accused of killing Costa Rican sea turtle conservationist Jairo Mora in 2013 heard testimony from four key witnesses this week.
One protected witness, Róger Salguera, testified via video conference. Salguera’s identity was protected throughout the investigation using the alias “El Faro,” but judges required him to identify himself in the video conference. Judges also heard recorded testimonies from three U.S. volunteers who were kidnapped along with Mora on the night of the murder.
According to prosecutors, Mora, the three U.S. volunteers and a Spanish veterinarian were patrolling the northern Caribbean coast for leatherback sea turtle nests when they were abducted by a group of masked men in the early hours of May 31, 2013. The four women were taken to an abandoned house while Mora was beaten, dragged behind a car and left to suffocate in the sand.
Seven men face murder, kidnapping and other charges that could put them behind bars for up to 35 years if convicted.
According to Salguera’s testimony, he was on Moín Beach the night of the murder collecting coconuts to sell when he encountered the suspects several times throughout the night. At about 3 a.m., he saw one of the suspects, Felipe Arauz, and several other men who were wearing masks surround a car matching the description of the Suzuki Jimny that Mora and the volunteers were driving. Salguera said one of the men threatened him and punched him several times in the head before he fled the scene.
The court also heard testimony from three U.S. volunteers that was recorded by police hours after the murder. Shortly after giving that testimony, the three women – all in their early 20s – returned to the U.S. None will testify in person during the trial. Judges permitted the use of the recorded testimonies despite objections from defense attorneys, who claimed they were inadmissible because an official investigation of the suspects had not yet been opened when the recordings were made.
In the recordings, which The Tico Times obtained and reported on last September, all three women describe being kidnapped and driven to an abandoned house, where they were held for hours before they escaped. Two men allegedly sexually assaulted the women while the others drove off with Mora.
A total of 26 witnesses are scheduled to testify in the trial, which is set to end in December.