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Park ranger to serve 12-year prison sentence for attempted murder

August 11, 2016

After losing an appeal, Costa Rican Park Ranger Mauricio Steller, 32, turned himself in to prison guards Wednesday to begin a 12-year sentence. Steller was convicted last August of the attempted murder of Alix Castro Chavarría, who was caught poaching sea turtle eggs during a 2009 ranger patrol of Playa Carate in the southern Pacific Osa Peninsula.

During the patrol, Steller shot Castro in the chest with his service weapon, paralyzing 70 percent of Castro’s body. Both Steller and his patrol partner claim that the shot was in self-defense, after Castro and two men attacked the rangers with machetes.

Because of the remoteness of Playa Carate, authorities did not immediately search the scene and did not recover any machetes. The prosecution presented six witnesses — most of whom were Castro’s family members — who testified that Steller fired his gun without provocation.

Steller’s conviction last year spurred a wave of protests from environmental groups and employees of Costa Rica’s National System of Conservation Areas (SINAC), who wanted clarification over park rangers’ right to use force. Though park rangers are supposed to enforce environmental laws and are often issued guns, their legal right to use them remains ambiguous.

Because they are not covered by the General Police Law, park rangers who use their guns on the job receive the same scrutiny as any civilian self-defense case. SINAC is also prohibited from providing its employees with a lawyer even when criminal charges stem from on-the-job duties.

After the conviction, Steller appealed the charges and was allowed to continue working while awaiting a final verdict. Just before the appeal, as calls for a presidential pardon for Steller were beginning to gain traction, it came to light that the ranger was also under investigation for his alleged involvement in a drug case potentially related to a triple murder.

With the appeal now rejected, Steller will serve the 12-year sentence he was convicted of last August. Steller’s lawyer, Roberto Zamora, told CRhoy.com that they are considering taking the case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

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