Alumnus’ Murder Conviction Overturned

    A Nicaraguan appellate court overturned a UCSD alumnus’
    murder conviction last month, ruling that the judge was biased and reasonable
    doubt existed in the case. Prosecutors, however, have appealed the case to
    Nicaragua’s Supreme Court, where the judges who exonerated him are under
    investigation.

    Eric Volz, who graduated from Thurgood Marshall College in
    2005, was released from a Nicaraguan prison on Dec. 21 when the appeals court
    overturned his conviction in a 2-1 decision. Volz was originally convicted of
    the November 2006 rape and murder of his ex-girlfriend, 25-year-old Doris
    Jimenez, in the dress shop she owned in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua. He
    recieved a 30-year prison sentence in February 2007.

    According to a statement released by his family, Volz, 28,
    is currently hiding in an undisclosed area due to massive opposition to the
    reversal of the verdict in Nicaragua.

    “We have reason to believe he is being followed and [we] are
    taking every precaution to assure his safety,”
    family members said in the statement.

    Volz’s problems are compounded by the fact that, according
    to his mother and a family spokeswoman, he is ailing from kidney stones.

    The brutality of the murder outraged many Nicaraguans,
    causing citizens and some politicians to staunchly oppose Volz’s release. A mob
    formed outside the courtroom chanting for his conviction the day that it was
    overturned.

    Nicaraguan Attorney General Julio Centeno Gomez called the
    ruling an “atrocity” and said that he would help prosecutors take the case to
    the Supreme Court.

    In addition, the judge that was responsible for discharging
    Volz is accused of procrastinating casework to delay his release.

    Nicaraguan law states that the lower court judge who
    sentenced Volz, Ivette Toruno, must acknowledge the appellate court’s decision
    with a signature before Volz can be released. However, Toruno did not show up
    at the courthouse on the day the papers arrived, claiming she had a flat tire.
    She later refused to sign the papers, alleging they were numbered incorrectly.

    Volz’s attorney, Fabbrith Gomez, claimed that the judge
    purposefully postponed the release of his client, holding Volz in the country
    illegally. Gomez argued that Toruno was delaying the process in order to allow
    more time for an appeal to be filed with the Supreme Court.

    Those few days were especially worrisome for Volz’s family,
    spokeswoman Melissa Campbell told the Washington Post, especially because
    Nicaraguan radio shows had started calling on citizens to “take justice into
    their own hands,” she said.

    “Every minute that Eric stays in jail is such a concern for
    us,” Volz’s mother Maggie Anthony told the Associated Press. “We’re more
    fearful for his life right now than we ever have been. We’re so frightened for
    him.”

    Although the murder conviction was overturned on Dec. 17,
    Volz was not freed from jail until his papers were finally signed on Dec. 20.

    Volz had his passport returned on Dec. 21 and left Nicaragua
    the same day at 2:45 p.m. local time, according to U.S. State Department
    spokesman Curtis Cooper.

    “We are pleased that the Nicaraguan Appeals Court decision
    … has been implemented in accordance with Nicaraguan law,” Cooper told the
    Associated Press.

    Cooper told CNN that the State Department had been
    persistently working on Volz’s case, sending the U.S. ambassador to Nicaragua
    to speak to multiple government officials, including President Daniel Ortega,
    to push the case forward.

    The defense used Volz’s personal cell phone records to show
    that he had used the phone in Managua, more than two hours away from the murder
    scene, at the time Jimenez was killed.

    Although Volz has fled the country, the Supreme Court is
    currently investigating the decision of the three-judge panel. The two judges
    who ruled to overturn the conviction, Roberto Rodriguez and Alejandro Estrada,
    appeared before the Supreme Court last week to explain their ruling.

    Rodriguez defended his position as legally and morally
    correct, but has continued to receive threatening phone calls and accusations
    of bribery.

    “I have been in a state of terror,” Rodriguez, who has U.S.
    citizenship and has lived in the U.S. for 18 years, told the Nicaraguan
    newspaper the Nica Times. “I can’t say that I am brave and that I don’t care
    what’s going to happen. Of course I’m afraid.”

    The investigation, which could take months, has postponed
    Rodriguez’s original plans to retire.

    Volz’s murder conviction was primarily based on the
    testimony of Nelson Danglas, who was originally arrested for the murder. He was
    given full immunity in exchange for testifying against Volz.

    Volz was sentenced despite the fact that no physical
    evidence was found at the crime scene that could link him to the murder and
    that 10 witnesses had testified that Volz was in his office in Managua.

    Following the conviction, Volz’s family spearheaded an
    enormous media campaign to overturn the ruling, creating a Web site and a
    MySpace page to collect donations and promote awareness of the case to the
    American public.

    “We have experienced the most abundant love from friends and
    total strangers, and we thank you,” a statement from the family read.

    A major in Latin American studies at UCSD, Volz has traveled
    extensively throughout Latin America. During
    his tenure in Nicaragua, Volz started the eco-conservative magazine El Puente
    and worked as a real estate broker.

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