Metro teen’s killer wins new trial in Costa Rica
MCLOUTH, Kan. — The parents of a McLouth, Kan., teenager killed in Costa Rica two years ago are having to return to the Central American country next month. Their son’s killer has won a new trial and they’re worried justice may escape them this time.
Justin Johnston, 16, was on a student field trip with his high school Spanish Club when he was shot and killed by a hotel security guard. Justin and a classmate were returning to their hotel room when the teen was shot in the chest.
His parents thought they had justice a year ago when the hotel guard, Jorge Guevara, was convicted and sentenced to 15 years. They fear a new trial has put justice in jeopardy.
“Devastating, we received the news of Guevara being granted a new trial from the appelate court on Justin’s birthday. We were actually at the cemetary,” John Johnston, father, said. His wife Wendi Johnston added, “Emotionally, financially we have to go back again and live this all over.”
The new trial is scheduled to begin September 16. The Johnston’s and their attorney said the appellate court ruled the original trial court did not establish Guevara’s intent to kill Justin.
“Our understanding of Costa Rican law is the mere fact of shooting a deadly firearm at a person establishes intent to kill,” John said. “Even more disturbing is the charge he was originally convicted of is essentially a manslaughter charge, where it’s not even a higher charge.”
Jorge Guevara testified that he mistook the teenage boys for thieves and insisted he fired a warning shot first. But the Johnston’s say Justin’s classmate testified there was no warning shot.
“The distance between Justin and Guevara was about 15 feet in a lighted hallway,” John said. “He was wearing his backpack from the tour.”
The Johnstons have spent more than a $100,000 on both American and Costa Rican attorneys. Now the couple has to pay to fly themselves back to Costa Rica and they’re paying for Justin’s classmate, the star witness, to fly back and testify again. Wendi said the cost of justice won’t deter them.
“You know Justin is not here to tell his side of the story and we want to make sure that we get justice for him and no matter what the cost is, we’re going to see it through to the end,” she said.
But Justin’s parents admit they fear outside forces may be conspiring to deny them justice.
“It’s possible pressures related to the death of our son could be portrayed negatively related to the tourism within Costa Rica,” John said. “We’re very concerned that the process may not be above board.”
Justin’s parents say before the first trial they dealt with testimony that was mistranslated and were even asked to sign documents that misstated the facts to get their son’s body returned to the U.S.
“From the very start, we’ve been very concerned about what is happening within the country to allow things to be fair,” says John Johnston.
In the meantime the Johnston’s have created a non-profit called “Remembering Justin” that’s awarded $20,000 in college scholarships to McLouth, Kan., high school students. They have a Poker Run Saturday August 17 and a golf tournament in September, which are both fundrasiers for the scholarship fund.
You can learn more by visiting the website rememberingjustin.com.