Costa Rica’s Judicial Inspection Tribunal, an independent watchdog arm of the Judicial Branch, ruled that the three judges who presided over the original trial of the men implicated in the murder of sea turtle conservationist Jairo Mora did not commit any errors in the process that ended with the acquittal of all seven defendants.
Following the 2015 acquittal, the prosecution appealed on the grounds that evidence was wrongly excluded from the first trial.
The Appeals Court agreed, overturned the acquittal and ordered a new trial for Mora’s death. The new trial resulted in the conviction of four of the seven suspects in March of this year.
The Inspection Tribunal then opened an investigation of the three judges from the first trial – Yolanda Vargas Alvarado, Hernán Salazar and Luis Rodríguez – arguing that they had made “severe errors and omissions.”
The Tribunal has now reported that they did not find any mistakes in the proceedings than can be described as “severe errors” by the judges. The tribunal also said that the investigation “failed to properly and precisely describe the alleged errors incurred.”
The ruling noted that the Inspection Tribunal is allowed to investigate judges only when they fail to comply with provisions of the law, or when they can be considered unfit to carry out their jobs. The tribunal cannot prosecute a judge for his or her reasoning or for the criteria used in a ruling.
The tribunal can take disciplinary action against any judicial employee for dereliction of duty or ethical violations. Sanctions range from a written warning to dismissal.
Adriana Orocú, president of the Costa Rican Association of the Judiciary, the judges’ guild, expressed the group’s opposal to the investigation in March .
At the time, she told The Tico Times that “to investigate judges based on how they rule in a case is a complete violation of an independent judiciary.”
Jairo Mora and other volunteers were conducting surveillance at the beach in the Caribbean province of Limón to protect sea turtle eggs from poachers when he was killed on May 31, 2013.
Mora was a well-known activist against turtle-egg poaching, earning himself enemies among the beach’s poaching gangs.
The case drew international attention, and the acquittals at the first trial were widely condemned by environmental groups, government agencies and various non-governmental organizations, including the United Nations.
In the second trial, a Limón Criminal Court found four of the seven defendants guilty of the murder of Mora and the kidnapping and robbery of four foreign volunteers.
Héctor Cash, Ernesto Centeno, José Bryan Quesada and Donald Salmón received sentences between 74-90 years in prison for the crimes of murder, rape, sexual abuse and kidnapping.
They will serve only 50 years, howeover, the maximum prison time allowed by Costa Rican laws.
Felipe Arauz, William Delgado, and convict Donald Salmón’s brother Darwin Salmón were cleared of all charges.
Recommended: Why Jairo Died: The full story of Mora’s murder and the police investigation