Costa Rica Murder Verdict: Guilty

Wife killed husband, says court

In 1998, Ann Patton and John Bender moved to a remote compound in the jungle of Costa Rica. In their isolation they experienced a downward spiral that ultimately ended in John's death. (Chris Goldberg/Flickr)

After more than four years, the saga of alleged murderer Ann Patton may be nearing an end. As the Tico Times reports, a Costa Rica criminal court convicted the 43-year-old American expat of killing her husband, 44-year-old John Bender, in 2010. Sentenced to 22 years in prison, Patton will now wait nine months while the sentence is reviewed. The couple's extravagant expat life—and the sensational killing—was featured in Outside's June 2013 issue.

The trial, which began on Monday, May 19, was itself the outcome of an appellate court's recent decision to overturn Patton's initial January 2013 acquittal.

Patton stood accused of shooting Bender in the head on January 7, 2010, while he slept in the fourth-floor bedroom of the couple's 120,000-square-foot living space. Patton and Bender had lived in Costa Rica since 1998, when Bender relocated there after making millions in options trading.

Patton always claimed that Bender's death was a suicide, but prosecutors appealed the acquittal—an action not permitted in the United States—due to multiple "inconsistencies." Bender was found in a sleeping position and without gunpowder residue on his hands, suggesting he may not have fired the weapon. Patton didn't have gunpowder on her hands after the incident either, however investigators did find gunpowder on napkins in the second floor of the couple's house.

"Beyond the fact that there was no blood on the defendant, beyond the fact that the pistol was found in another place, beyond the tampering of the crime scene, the only reasonable explanation, considering the body's position and the evidence found on the body, is that the bullet wound is homicide, because there was no way the victim could have done it,” said Adolfo Calderon Bogantes, one of the judges on the three-member appellate panel.

Doubts about Patton's guilt remain. Prosecutors still haven't identified a motive for the killing, and after Bender's death, Patton discovered that his fortune had been taken from her by the lawyers controlling his trust. Both Patton and Bender also suffered from multiyear bouts of depression and mania; Bender had injected Patton with home remedies to heal undefined ailments.

Stay tuned for developments, and revisit Ned Zeman's feature from our June 2013 issue for more on this strange and deadly story.

More Adventure