Hotel security guard’s conviction is overturned in death of Kansas student in Costa Rica

The hotel security guard who shot a 16-year-old McLouth, Kan., student to death in Costa Rica is a free man after a judicial panel this week overturned his 2012 conviction.

“It is unbelievable,” said Wendi Johnston, the mother of Justin Johnston, a McLouth High School student who went to Costa Rica in June 2011 for an educational trip with his Spanish club.

“We are shocked and confused. We’re trying to grasp where we go from here.”

Wendi and husband John Johnston returned to Costa Rica with the student who was with Justin when he was shot to attend a retrial that began Sept. 16.

The student was the only witness, other than the shooter, to the killing. The Johnstons took the student with them, as they did for the original trial in 2012, and worked with the prosecutor in an unfamiliar Costa Rican court system hoping to bring a conviction in the death of their son.

Justin and his friend were returning to their hotel room at night when the security guard shot Justin. The trip coordinators had placed the boys in a separate building from the rest of the Spanish club and they were returning after spending time with the larger group.

In each trial, a panel of three judges heard the case. The first panel convicted the hotel clerk, Jorge Eduardo Guevara of Nicaragua, and sentenced him to 15 years in prison.

The defense appealed the ruling, getting a retrial. A second panel of three different judges decided that Guevara had legitimate cause to think the youths were thieves and a danger to the hotel, Wendi Johnston said.

The court overturned the conviction, set Guevara free and dismissed the Johnstons’ civil case against the hotel.

The prosecutor told the Johnstons that he will appeal the ruling, Johnston said. But they are not optimistic. The hotel guard is not likely to stay in Costa Rica, and it is unlikely he could be brought back even if a third trial were granted.

“This is what we feared might happen” in a retrial, she said. “But we didn’t think it would come true. It doesn’t make sense.”


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