Archive for Friday, February 7, 2003

3 suspects to be tried in slaying of student

February 7, 2003


A trial will begin within six weeks for a woman and two men accused in the stabbing death of Kansas University student Shannon Martin.

Costa Rican prosecutor Erick Martinez announced the trial time frame nearly two years after the young Kansan was killed outside a Golfito, Costa Rica, nightclub and one week after Kansas University Chancellor Robert Hemenway wrote that country's president urging authorities to seek justice in the case.

Martin's mother, Jeanette Stauffer of Topeka, said the news left her pleased but anxious.

"Emotionally, I'm just a mess -- and now I'm going to face my daughter's killers," Stauffer said. "I don't know if I can handle it. I'm just a wreck; forgive me. I'm in shock, in disbelief."

Stauffer has been outspoken in her frustration with the seemingly slow-paced investigation into her daughter's slaying and the lack of prosecution.

Stauffer said she would go to Costa Rica for the trial.

She said that in November when she was in Costa Rica, Martinez had asked if she would be willing to make a "victim's statement" in court. Stauffer said she would.

Martinez, a couple of weeks ago, had told Topeka attorney Pedro Irigonegaray, who has represented Stauffer, that a trial was probably imminent. Wednesday, Martinez was quoted in San Jose's Tico Times newspaper, an English language weekly, saying the trial would happen within six weeks, though a date hadn't been set. Martinez and other Costa Rican officials close to the case were unavailable for comment Thursday. U.S. Embassy representatives in Costa Rica declined comment.

Martin, 23, was killed May 13, 2001, after leaving a Golfito nightclub. An autopsy revealed that she had been stabbed 15 times in the arm, abdomen and neck.

Martin was in the Pacific Coast town to complete a research project on photosynthesis in ferns. A week later, she would have graduated with honors at KU. The university has since discontinued its study abroad program in Golfito.

Martin's body was found alongside a road about 30 yards from her host family's house.

Six months after Martin's death, police arrested Katia Venessa Cruz Murillo, then 27, who later implicated Rafael "Coco" Zumbado and Luis Alberto "Caballo" Castro.

Zumbado and Castro were arrested in July 2002. A judge in December ordered Zumbado released, citing insufficient evidence. Castro, too, was cleared but remained in custody in a separate drug-smuggling case.

Zumbado returned to jail Monday after being charged in connection with the shooting death Sunday of 27-year-old Jorge Altamirano.

Murillo remains in custody.

Stauffer said she had not been able to find out what prompted Martinez's decision to proceed with prosecution, other than the requirement in Costa Rican law that Murillo be released if her trial had not started by March 20.

"This is a big, high-profile case in Costa Rica," Stauffer said. "A lot of people want to see this go to trial."

Hemenway welcomed news of the pending trial.

"I'm heartened by the fact the Costa Rican officials have taken this action," he said. "Obviously, a fair trial has to go forward. Everyone's rights have to be protected. But I feel Shannon's rights have been protected by this, too. I hope this is the beginning of closure for everyone. It's been a terrible situation."

Commenting has been disabled for this item.