Only a matter of months after opening a successful restaurant in La Fortuna, a town in northern Costa Rica, US citizen John Pennisi, 50, is now facing a possible murder trial for stabbing Michael Mendoza, 32, during broad daylight in front of his restaurant, presumably because Mendoza was attempting to steal Pennisi's vehicle.
According to a preliminary report by Costa Rica's Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ), Mendoza attempted to steal Pennisi’s vehicle on March 4, which was parked in a lot next to Pennisi's restaurant, the New York Grill, resulting in a physical confrontation between the two men. When EMTs arrived at the scene, Mendoza was already dead, with an apparent knife wound in the thorax.
By Tuesday, a local judge had released Pennisi after he surrendered his passport, agreed to sign in with the court once a week and remain in Costa Rica for at least six months while the death of Mendoza is investigated. Pennisi, a self-described “Italian from New York,” has lived in Costa Rica for the past 11 years.
COMMENT: Pennisi has told the media and others he did nothing wrong and describes himself as a local hero. Unfortunately, there is a history of ongoing disputes between Pennisi and Mendoza; in February of this year, Pennisi filed a complaint against Mendoza for allegedly threatening his life. Mendoza, on the other hand, has had a history of run-ins with the law.
Although this posting will be updated as new information becomes available, it should be noted that auto theft is not a justifiable defense to kill another person, particularly when you're a guest in a foreign country. The local prosecutor has indicated that it could be months before the case is ready to proceed at trial.