QCOSTARICA | After their initial acquittal was overturned, seven men accused of brutally murdering Costa Rican environmental activist Jairo Mora Sandoval and raping four female colleagues went on trial Monday.
Mora, 26, was beaten unconscious, tied to a pick-up truck and dragged along a Limon beach, in the Caribbean coast, until he suffocated in the sand in May 2013.
The four female volunteers – three Americans and a Spaniard – were tied up, held for hours and raped by the assailants. The women were working with the young conservationist to protect sea turtle nests
The crime harmed Costa Rica’s reputation as an eco-tourism paradise, drawing condemnation around the globe. The acquittal was added insult to injury.
The Fiscalia (prosecutor’s office) claim the defendants were part of a band who illegally trafficked turtle eggs and saw Mora as a threat to their business.
The eggs, considered a delicacy by some, fetch around US$1 each on the black market.
But judges at the original trial blamed prosecutors for botching the case, returning an acquittal in the trial more than a year go.
On appeal, the Appeals Court overturned the acquittal and ordered a new trial.
The defendants face up to 50 years in prison if convicted, in a trial that is expected to last two months.
Mora has taken to monitoring turtle nests, recording their number and tried to rescue the eggs. He told journalists that local criminal groups had threatened the area’s environmentalists, alleging poachers were linked to drug trafficking.
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Sea turtles are protected by law in Costa Rica, but poaching remains common. Locals take eggs, which are believed to be an aphrodisiac, and sell them on the black market. The egg trade has been linked to drug trafficking and organized crime. Environmentalists working in Limón say they are often threatened for trying to protect turtle eggs.