Alumnus Convicted of Murder

    A 2005 UCSD graduate is currently serving a 30-year prison sentence in Nicaragua for allegedly raping and murdering his ex-girlfriend, though his defense team and a galvanized crew of family and friends are waging an international media campaign to reopen the investigation and appeal his conviction, which supporters say was based on shaky evidence.

    Eric Volz – Thurgood Marshall College Alumnus

    Thurgood Marshall College alumnus Eric Volz’s advocates claim that corruption, inconsistencies and propaganda plagued the investigation into the murder of Doris Jimenez, along with the subsequent trial during which Volz was convicted.

    Police said that Jimenez was murdered in the clothing store she owned sometime between 11:44 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Nov. 21, 2006 in San Juan del Sur, a small beach town. Medical examiners determined Jimenez was strangled by her killer’s bare hands.

    Although Volz was found guilty, 10 witnesses placed him in his Managua office – 90 miles away on ill-maintained roads – from 9:21 a.m. until 2:07 p.m.

    Cell phone records, a conference call, time-stamped AOL Instant Messenger logs and meetings with three business associates corroborated the witnesses’ testimonies.

    However, this evidence was dismissed from the trial after Judge Ivette Toruno ruled that the witnesses were not credible and deemed the phone and computer records inadmissible.

    Isolda Ibarra, one of the prosecutors, told the Wall Street Journal that the police “”did such a bad job”” handling physical evidence that it was unusable by either side.

    Police photographs taken the day Volz was arrested show four parallel scratches on his right shoulder. The prosecution introduced the photos as evidence that Jimenez scratched Volz in self-defense although no tissue was found under her fingernails, while Volz claimed the marks resulted from carrying Jimenez’s coffin during her funeral procession.

    A friend of Jimenez testified to seeing Volz just outside Jimenez’s shop on the morning of the murder.

    Other witnesses testified that Volz had become so consumed with jealousy that he snapped.

    “”Why were the family and friends testifying that I was a jealous guy?”” Volz told the Washington Post in a telephone interview from La Modelo, a maximum-security prison just outside of Managua. “”It was convenient for them. They wanted me to be convicted, but it’s not true.””

    In addition to Volz, three other Nicaraguan men were charged with Jimenez’s murder.

    One defendant, Nelson Lopez Danglas, received full immunity in exchange for testifying that he saw Volz exiting Jimenez’s store at 1 p.m., adding that Volz paid him 50 cordobas – about $2.73 – to carry two bags from Jimenez’s store into a waiting car. Danglas also had scratches, covering his torso, forearms and penis.

    Ultimately, Volz and another Nicaraguan man, Martin Chamorro, were tried and found guilty.

    Volz lived in Managua for two years, where he surfed, worked in real estate and published El Puente (“”The Bridge””), a bilingual magazine about ecotourism and sustainable development.

    Upon receiving news of Jimenez’s death, Volz said he rented a car, drove to San Juan del Sur, picked up Jimenez’s father and arrived to find a crowd of people and police officers at the crime scene.

    A Hertz rental receipt stamped 3:11 p.m. corroborated his assertion that he drove to San Juan del Sur only after he heard about the murder when a friend called him at 2:43 p.m.

    According to the Wall Street Journal, Volz pressed the police to handle the evidence more carefully, which some say irked the officers and initiated an antagonistic relationship between him and the Nicaraguan authorities.

    The case has ignited anti-American sentiments among Nicaraguans.

    Police had to fire rubber bullets to restrain the mob coordinated by Jimenez’s mother, Mercedes Alvarado, who gathered the group outside the courtroom during the trial as they chanted and proclaimed that the United States cannot buy justice in Nicaraguan courts.

    According to World magazine, protestors also threatened Volz, yelling, “”Come out, gringo, because we are going to kill you!””

    Volz and a U.S. Embassy security officer were chased by the crowd following the trial’s preliminary hearing and had to barricade themselves inside a gymnasium to avoid being attacked, the Wall Street Journal said.

    Public response indicates a perceived certainty that Volz bribed his witnesses, as demonstrated by online story comments from Nicaraguan newspapers La Prensa and El Nuevo Diario.

    “”Kill that gringo,”” read a comment on the latter’s Web site.

    The U.S. government has also been involved in the case.

    “”The Embassy has been actively engaged with Nicaraguan authorities regarding [Volz’s] situation … please be assured that in all such cases involving U.S. citizens, we do everything possible to try to ensure that the matter is handled in a fair, transparent manner by judicial authorities and that the rights of the accused under local law are protected,”” American Ambassador to Nicaragua Paul A. Trivelli said on the U.S. State Department’s Web site.

    In response to the massive public outcry following Volz’s conviction, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) has attempted to nudge fellow representatives into action, initiating dialogue with the State Department in an attempt to ensure that the investigation and review of the situation are kept open.

    Volz has served about 200 days of his 10,950-day sentence.

    There are two opportunities for Volz to appeal his sentence before a three-judge panel, during which the evidence introduced in the first trial will be re-evaluated.

    When asked in a television interview about his thoughts if the conviction stands, Volz said, “”I refuse to consider anything but liberty and absolution … this injustice speaks for itself.””

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