US expat Ann Patton faces third murder trial in Costa Rica
Ann Patton was back in a Pérez Zeledón court Monday for her third trial in five years for the 2010 death of her husband, the wealthy U.S. financier John Felix Bender.
Patton, a 44-year-old U.S. woman, moved with Bender to Costa Rica in 2000 with the aim of building an animal refuge on a sprawling estate in Florida de Barú, a remote community in southern Costa Rica.
After 10 years in the remote jungle, the couple’s opulent lifestyle fell apart when Bender died from a gunshot to the neck. Patton claimed it was a suicide. She said Bender had been depressed and that she tried to pull the gun away from him before he fired.
Prosecutors alleged that Patton killed her husband, who was 43 at the time.
Three trials later, Patton has never wavered in proclaiming her innocence. This latest trial, she said hopefully on Monday, would finally be the one to absolve her of any wrongdoing.
“I did not kill my husband,” Patton told The Tico Times.
In her first trial in 2013 Patton was acquitted, but an appellate court ordered a retrial that was held in May 2014. The 2014 trial found Patton guilty and she was sentenced to 22 years in prison. Patton served nine months in El Buen Pastor prison in Desamparados, south of San José, before an appellate court in Cartago threw out the guilty verdict in February and ordered the retrial that started Monday. There is no prohibition against double jeopardy in Costa Rican law.
Fabio Oconitrillo, Patton’s lawyer, previously told The Tico Times that his legal team could prove that investigators manipulated evidence to implicate Patton as the shooter instead of her husband. Oconitrillo and Patton both have accused Judicial Investigation Police of perjuring themselves during the second trial.
The Tico Times was not able to reach Oconitrillo for comment.
Patton has chronic Lyme disease, a condition that has left her frail and walking with a cane. She reportedly weighed just 70 pounds at the time of Bender’s death.
Besides Patton’s freedom, the custody of $7 million worth of jewels is also in question. Authorities seized the jewels, claiming that they were contraband and did not have tax records. The Florida de Barú estate is also under dispute. Patton has a lawsuit pending against her former lawyer for control of the 5,000-acre property.
Upon her release in February Patton was ordered to surrender her passport and not leave the country. She has been staying with family since then.
Prosecutor Edgar Ramírez told The Tico Times on Tuesday that regardless of how the trial ended he foresaw another appeal.
“Neither side is going to be satisfied with the result,” Ramírez said, reflecting on the two previous appeals and the right of both sides to continue to appeal the case under Costa Rican law. “There are several outcomes that would result in another appeal.”
Patton showed more sangfroid when asked how the trial would end.
“I have faith that finally justice will be served,” she said.
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