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

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

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

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.