A murder and a mother’s story

Assailants murdered KU student Shannon Martin in Golfito, Costa Rica, five years ago, May 13.

Jeanette Stauffer, Martin’s mother, spent the first two-and-a-half years trying to put Martin’s murderers in prison.

Now, since the convictions in 2003, she continues to travel Costa Rica, opposing the convicted’s appeals and keeping them incarcerated with the help of two dedicated investigators.

Stauffer and her team returned last month to Golfito for the second appeal of Martin’s convicted murderers, Kattia Cruz and Luis Alberto Castro.

She said that the appeal was “the most difficult of all the testimony I have given at the trial or any of the hearings.” She told the court during the hearing how on Mother’s Day in 2001, she received a phone call informing her of Shannon’s murder.

The appeals

Originally convicted of “simple homicide,” the two received 15-year sentences. Under Costa Rican law, the prosecutor can request longer sentences during an appeal.

On the first appeal, the court found the crime met the requirements for “qualified homicide” because of the suffering caused to Shannon, said Jesse Ybarra, a Topeka court translator and one of the investigators who assisted Stauffer in Costa Rica. Martin was stabbed 15 times in 8 minutes.

That appeal doubled their sentences to 30 years.

“By every one of their appeals, they’ve screwed themselves,” Stauffer said.

But the first appeal was annulled because of a procedural error.

On April 21, the Costa Rican court again affirmed at the latest appeal that the pair was guilty of qualified homicide. Castro received the maximum 35 years while Cruz will serve 30 years.

Martin had traveled to Golfito for a brief trip, gathering additional samples of a fern she was researching. She had previously lived in the coastal town during a study abroad trip. Walking home from a bar near her host family’s house, she was attacked and killed. No clear motive or reason has been identified.

The investigators and the future

Ybarra and KBI agent Larry Thomas traveled to Golfito with Stauffer multiple times. They found witnesses and crucial evidence that helped convict Cruz and Castro, Stauffer said.

Thomas was special agent in charge of the cold case squad when he joined the Martin investigation.

Thomas said he would continue to go to Costa Rica for more appeals. He also said that if the opportunity arose, he would interview the convicted to learn more about what happened the night of the murder.

“The case is not over for us when the sentence is handed down,” he said.

Last year, after the conviction of Dennis Rader, the BTK serial killer, Thomas was promoted to assistant director for special operations.

Ybarra said his experience in Golfito made him want to help others find justice. He intends on applying for a private investigators license, but wants to see Martin’s case finished before he takes on more.

“I was quick to see in Jesse that he has the passion that it takes for cases like this,” Thomas said,

Victims’ rights

Stauffer uses her experience to help other victims now. Last year, she was appointed by Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline to be the Statewide Victims’ Rights Coordinator. The victim’s rights office helps victims and their families understand the judicial process and find assistance.

She said her personal experience taught her the importance of showing compassion to victims.

“Many times a victim will get so discouraged and feel everything’s hopeless,” she said. “At that point, I may decide to share my experience with them. How it took a long time, but finally justice prevailed.

“And yet, the battle’s still not over,” she said, “because of the rights of the convicted to appeal after appeal.”

Edited by John Jordan

  • Updated May. 2, 2006 at 6:00 am