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Costa Rican authorities to drop murder charges in death of US traveler

August 12, 2015

The Costa Rican Prosecutor’s Office has requested to dismiss an investigation into the 2013 killing of a U.S. tourist, according to court documents and the victim’s family.

In a document dated July 29, the Prosecutor’s Office said that it no longer intended to pursue first-degree murder charges against Aaron Alfaro Salazar and Juan José Martínez Segura for the killing of U.S. citizen Steven Flesch in the notorious slum of Torremolinos, Desamparados, south of San José.

Prosecutors cited a lack of evidence as a reason for dropping the case. A criminal judge in Desamparados has yet to rule on the request.

Flesch, a 32-year-old native of Brookfield, Wisconsin, was traveling alone in Costa Rica when he ended up in the Torremolinos slum, far off the tourist track, on the afternoon of April 2, 2013. It is not known why Flesch was in that neighborhood. A group of five — including three minors — attacked Flesch and tried to rob him, The Tico Times reported at the time. The group stole Flesch’s bag, which held a small laptop, digital camera, cell phone and personal documents.

Flesch fought with them before he was forced into an alley and shot in the back of the head, according to a report from the Judicial Investigation Police.

Flesch lay in San Juan de Díos Hospital in downtown San José, unidentified, for five days in a medically-induced coma. Finally two concerned traveling buddies — Kyle Eklund of Reno, Nevada and Ray Quinn of Ireland — showed up looking for him. He died at the hospital on May 7, 2013.

(Courtesy Nikki Lannert)
Ray Quinn, Kyle Eklund and Steven Flesch (from left to right) boating in Costa Rica in 2013. (Courtesy Nikki Lannert)

More than two years after Flesch’s death, prosecutors were unable to secure testimony from two key witnesses, Prosecutor’s Office spokeswoman Karla Rivera said in an email.

According to emails from the U.S. Embassy to the Flesch family about the investigation, which the family shared with The Tico Times, the first witness is believed to have left Costa Rica and his whereabouts are unknown. A second witness, the embassy told the Flesch family, claimed that she did not see the crime and could not testify to Alfaro and Martínez’s involvement.

The suspects were arrested after the crime but were not held in custody. Both Alfaro and Martínez are free.

Only one of the three minors suspected of being involved in the attack was initially charged in connection with Flesch’s death. But all charges were dropped in April, also due to a lack of evidence, according to the Juvenile Criminal Court.

Nikki Lannert, Flesch’s sister, told The Tico Times that the family was shocked at the news that the Prosecutor’s Office had requested to drop all charges.

“We’re pretty upset,” Lannert said. “We expected that we were going to have to wait a long time but we did not expect to wait this long for nothing.”

Lannert reserved some of her ire for the U.S. Embassy in San José, which she accused of misleading them into thinking that the investigation was making progress. She said the family didn’t receive any information about the status of the investigation into Flesch’s killing until Lannert’s mother, Sharon Flesch, contacted embassy officials in May 2014.

(Courtesy Nikki Lannert)
Steven Flesch (top center) with his mother, Sharon; father, Don; and sister, Nikki Lannert. (Courtesy Nikki Lannert)

The Prosecutor’s Office told the family it could file its own indictment, but Lannert said she didn’t have enough faith in the Costa Rican judicial system to pursue the case independently.

Lannert remembered her brother as the “life of the party,” positive and funny. Flesch was an avid golfer who saved his earnings working as a caddy to travel around the world.

He was an experienced traveler, visiting 42 countries in four years across Europe, Asia and Latin America. He had a knack for making fast friends, including Eklund and Quinn.

“He was the best friend anyone could ever have,” his sister said.

Last year the family held its first golf benefit in Flesch’s honor in New Berlin, Wisconsin, outside Milwaukee. The family raised $1,000 for golf scholarships for local high school students and plans to continue the tradition in the future, Lannert said.

With little hope for a legal resolution to her brother’s death, Lannert said she hopes his killers will get their due somehow. “I just have to believe in karma and that they will find their punishment in some other way.”

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