SAN JOSE, Costa Rica — A hotel security guard who shot a Kansas teen vacationing in Costa Rica two years ago has been acquitted of homicide charges in his second trial.
Jorge Guevara shot Justin Johnston, 16, of McLouth, as he was entering a hotel in northern Costa Rica from a neighboring property early in the morning on June 2, 2011. Guevara said he fired a warning shot when he saw someone he thought was a burglar.
Guevara was initially sentenced to 15 years in prison but won a new trial on appeal and was acquitted this week. Judges said Guevara was legitimately confused by Johnston’s attempt to enter from a nearby property instead of the hotel’s main entrance.
Johnston’s mother, Wendi Johnston, said Thursday that the family is “devastated” by the acquittal, which she heard about from the family’s lawyers in Costa Rica on Monday.
“We feel like Justin has died all over again,” Wendi Johnston said. “How do you go from one trial where he is sentenced to 15 years to setting him free?”
Justin Johnston was part of a group of Spanish Club students and two chaperones who were on a nine-day trip to the Central American nation. Police said the students had been sent to bed at 10 p.m. but some left their rooms and went to another building on the premises.
They were returning to their rooms before dawn when the security guard spotted them and, thinking they were thieves, opened fire. No other students were injured.
Wendi Johnston said the family, including Justin’s four younger siblings, attended the appeal trial in Costa Rica, and that she and Justin’s father both testified.
“We have many, many questions on how they could rule this way,” she said.
Johnston said she is anxious to read a written version of the ruling from the three-judge tribunal when it is released in a few days. She wants to know how they reached their conclusion that Justin could have been mistaken for a burglar when he was wearing a backpack with the name of his tour group on it.
“He had nothing in his hands,” she also said. “He was shot in front of Room 20. Justin’s room was 18. It doesn’t make sense.”