More than a year after former Tampa Bay resident Carla Stefaniak was found murdered during a birthday trip to Costa Rica, her accused killer is getting his day in court.
Prosecutors in the case said Bismarck Espinoza Martínez, a security guard at the Villa Buena Vista resort in the San Jose suburb of Escazu, stabbed Stefaniak seven times. Three wounds were found in her neck, three in her face and one in the palm of her hand as she defended herself from what the prosecutors said was a sexually motivated attack.
According to Costa Rican newspaper Diario Extra, Martínez’s trial started Monday and is expected to last five days. He faces 66 years in prison if convicted.
A medical examiner in Costa Rica said it was the wounds to Stefaniak’s neck that caused her to bleed to death, although it was initially believed that blunt force trauma to the head killed her.
Stefaniak, who family and friends described as an avid traveler, had been visiting the country for her 36th birthday with her sister-in-law April Antonieta in Nov. 2018. The pair traveled together, but Antonieta had been scheduled to leave the day before, so Stefaniak took an AirBnb to a resort and scheduled an 8:30 a.m. ride back with the driver who dropped her off.
While at the property, Stefaniak communicated with family through Facetime calls and messages on WhatsApp. She said the place seemed “sketchy” and the last message anyone received from her was around 8 p.m. on Nov. 27, when she said she was going to ask a guard, possibly Martínez, for water.
When she didn’t board her flight or arrive in Miami the next day, the search began. Members of her family traveled from Riverview to Costa Rica to assist in the search. Nearly a week later, on Dec. 3, search dogs found her partially buried body in a mountainous wooded area behind the property.
Martínez was arrested for the crime a few days later and formally charged last July.
The trial, which is being held in Costa Rica, does not have a jury and is being presided over by a panel of three judges, Eduardo Rojas, president of the court; Simón Guillén and José Alberto Vargas.
Altogether, about 14 witnesses are expected to testify. One of the first to take the stand was Carla González, a maid at the property. González told the judges she knew the family well and staked her seven-year-old reputation with the resort to get him the security job.
According to González, Martínez’s mother told her mother he confessed to the crime.
Stefaniak’s father, Carlos Caicedo, is expected to testify today.
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Stefniak was born in Venezuela and moved to Tampa in 2000, then to Miami in 2012. Much of her family still lives in the Tampa Bay area.
In December of 2018, some of Stefaniak’s surviving relatives filed a negligence lawsuit against AirBnB, which is currently being arbitrated through federal court.
Members of Stefaniak’s family could not be reached for comment.