Costa Rican prosecutors have charged two men and a woman with killing Shannon Martin, a 23-year-old Kansas University student whose body was found about 30 yards from the home of her host family in the Pacific coast town of Golfito.
The trio -- Kattia Cruz, Rafael Zumbado and Luis Carrillo -- are expected to appear at a preliminary hearing next week. An exact date has not been announced.
If convicted, each of the three could be sentenced to 20-35 years in prison.
"This is a very, very significant step forward in what has been a long, difficult and painful process," said Pedro Irigonegaray, a Topeka attorney speaking on behalf of Martin's mother, Jeanette Stauffer of Topeka.
"But, now, we are hopeful," Irigonegaray said.
Cruz has been in custody since November 2001. Zumbado was jailed recently on suspicion of being involved in another murder.
Among the evidence to be presented at the preliminary hearing, Irigonegaray said, will be an earring Cruz pawned the day after Martin was killed.
Irigonegaray said a friend of Martin's would testify that the earring belonged to Martin.
"It is a unique piece," he said. "There is no reason -- other than illegal activity -- for (Cruz) to have had it in her possession. It is a very powerful piece of evidence."
In filing the charges Wednesday, Costa Rican prosecutor Erick Martinez indicated Martin was slain during a robbery.
An autopsy showed Martin had been stabbed 15 times in the early morning hours of May 13, 2000. Her body was found alongside an airport access road in Golfito. Kansas University formerly had a study abroad program in the town.
Stauffer appeared on Costa Rican television last week, pleading for help in locating a taxi driver who may have been at or near the crime scene.
Irigonegaray said the taxi driver had since been identified but had not been found.
"But there may be something happening on that; we don't know yet," he said.
Stauffer declined to be interviewed Thursday.
"This last trip was absolutely the most emotionally exhausting yet for me," she said. "I'm afraid I'm not thinking straight."
Irigonegaray said he, Stauffer and a group of Martin's friends and family members hoped to attend the trial.
"A (trial) date has not been set, but it looks like it will be in about two months," he said.