UPDATE (September 4th, 8:11 a.m.) Case of park ranger sentenced for attempted murder takes stunning turn: ranger to face charges of drug trafficking
September 2nd, 2015 (ICR News) Environmental groups in Costa Rica, including the Environmental Federation of Costa Rica (Fecon) are expressing their outrage over a 12-year prison sentence handed down to former park ranger, Mauricio Steller Fallas for attempted murder on Friday.
The sentence comes as a result of Steller’s August 28th conviction on a charge of attempted murder as a result of his shooting an alleged poacher of protected sea turtle eggs in September 2009 within the Osa Conservation Area (Acosa).
Steller testified that the alleged poacher was intoxicated and attacked him with a machete when he asked the man to show him the contents of the bag he was carrying, which the ranger believed contained protected sea turtle eggs.
Steller said that he fired a warning shot into the ground after the man began attacking with the machete, but the man continued in his attack, forcing the ranger to shoot the man.
As a result of the shooting, the alleged poacher, identified by the last name Castro, was paralyzed in 70 percent of his body. Castro later died in 2013, four years after the shooting.
Olger Mendez, manager of the Osa Conservation Area defended Steller, saying the ranger acted in self-defense and within the authority of his office.
The Golfito District Attorney and prosecutors however argued that the ranger was not justified in the shooting.
Steller’s defense attorney described the sentence as another act of injustice against those working to protect the environment.
Eliecer Villalta, ranger operations supervisor for the Osa Conservation Area, expressed the frustration of the area’s park rangers. “Our hands are tied. It shouldn’t be possible that one of our colleagues gets punished for simply doing his job. In future operations, we won’t be able to do anything,” Villalta told La Nacion.
Steller’s defense attorney said that he and his client plan to launch an appeal.
Environmental minister Edgar Gutierrez told the media that he also supports Steller’s claim of self-defense and that he would support Steller in any future appeal.
Gutierrez also lamented the fact that park rangers routinely face danger in the line of duty, including armed poachers as well as drug traffickers that often carry large-caliber rifles and easily out-gun park rangers who are typically outfitted with only basic equipment and side arms.
Steller was also ordered to pay the alleged poacher’s family ¢25 million in damages as part of a civil suit.