Costa Rica: British backpacker begins murder trial
A British backpacker accused of brutally stabbing to death a Czech student in Costa Rica has appeared in court for the start of his murder trial.
Alfred Saunders, 20, was brought in chains to a ramshackle one-storey courthouse under a corrugated iron roof in the northern town of Upala.
He is accused of knifing Alexandra Drbohlavova, 22, fifteen times in a frenzied attack on Dec 28 at Finca La Libertad, a remote eco-farm near the Nicaraguan border where both were volunteering and staying in tents.
The defendant, who had a tattoo reading "Only God Can Judge Me" etched on the back of his neck, was handcuffed and had his feet shackled as he arrived at court wearing a grey T-shirt and blue jeans.
He had cuts on his hands, including a deep gash on his left thumb, and wore a white bath towel over his head which obscured his face for much of the proceedings.
The hearing took place in a small room with no dock and barking dogs outside. Saunders sat with his publicly appointed defence lawyer, Juan Pablo Quesada Bolanos, at a white metal desk and occasionally asked him questions.
The defendant declined to comment from beneath his towel. Asked if he had anything to say to the victim's family, he replied: "No."
Saunders' family was not present in court but a private lawyer, paid for by his mother, arrived. He declined the services of the private lawyer and opted to remain with the public defender.
The Finca La Libertad farm is run by Briton Nic Donati and Saunders was apprehended by members of Mr Donati's family who were visiting. Mr Donati's father Petar, 64, mother Sally, 61, and sister Georgina, 26, restrained the alleged killer, the court heard.
Costa Rican prosecutor Kathia Soto Hernandez told the court: "On December 28 at 9.30pm Alfred Saunders stabbed to death Alexandra Drbohlavova, in different parts of her body causing death.
"The day Alexandra died the witnesses Petar, Sally and Georgina Donati were all at the same place. They heard the shouts. Petar Donati came out and found Alfred very near to the scene of the act, and Sally and Georgina appeared and ... helped to grab Alfred."
Judge Juan Carlos Seravatti, dressed casually in a short-sleeved red shirt, said the Donati family were being allowed to give evidence ahead of a full trial later this year so that they did not have to return to Costa Rica again.
He then ruled that their evidence should be heard in private. It was recorded and will be played at the full trial. Their evidence concluded by the end of the day and the judge adjourned proceedings until a date yet to be set. The Donati family declined to comment publicly.
A police source said Saunders had seemed "relaxed" on his three hour journey to court from La Reforma jail, near the capital San Jose, and sang songs in the police van. He also appeared relaxed in court and, during a period where he removed his towel, seemed to be following proceedings with the help of a translator.
A police source has told The Daily Telegraph that they believe Saunders attacked Miss Drbohlavova after watching her bathing in a river. They also believe he disposed of her camera and mobile phone which are missing.
Saunders was the subject of an Interpol alert issued in November which called him a "dangerous" individual with a "mental illness" but he was still able to travel abroad.
According to travel documents seen by The Daily Telegraph he arrived in the United States in December and travelled more than 3,000 miles through Central America to Costa Rica.
When he was arrested he was carrying a copy of "The SAS Self Defence Handbook," a book about an American serial killer, and half a dozen CDs by the rapper Eminem, including a song called "Kill You."
Last year Saunders, who had previously been treated for a serious heart condition, attended a martial arts school in China where he was said to be intent on learning kung fu and was keen on a weapon called a "three section staff."
One classmate told The Daily Telegraph: "Alfred was a bit odd, a bit socially awkward and everyone was extra nice to him. Most of us felt sorry for him because he was really awkward. He really wanted to start learning weapons. He would practice a lot with throwing knives."