Page 3 of 3   <      

An American's Kafkaesque Encounter With Nicaragua's Justice System

Eric Volz was convicted of the murder of his ex-girlfriend after a three-day trial in which an alibi and the lack of physical evidence were disregarded.
Eric Volz was convicted of the murder of his ex-girlfriend after a three-day trial in which an alibi and the lack of physical evidence were disregarded. (Courtesy Of Volz Family)

The prosecution also showed that, once Volz became a suspect, an employee of his tried to urge a Hertz worker to sign an affidavit saying someone at the company had seen him when delivering the car to his house. But no one had. The defense later said Volz's employee had acted on her own. They said Volz was inside the house and signed the rental contract, but never saw a Hertz worker.

"They are doubts they gave us, doubts that, coupled with the evidence, gave us the certainty we took the right people to justice," said Isolda Ibarra, the prosecutor.

But Rojas, the defense attorney, said the judge overlooked stronger defense evidence.

The judge heard testimony from Ricardo Castillo, an established journalist in Managua, who said he was with Volz from about noon until 2 p.m. that day. "Ricardo Castillo is not credible," she said.

Toruño permitted only two additional defense witnesses to testify. Others, including a gardener, a maid, employees of Volz's magazine and a couple of visitors, were not needed, she said, explaining that their testimony would be redundant.

Rojas introduced cellphone and time-stamped instant-messaging records that he said proved Volz could not have been even close to the crime scene at the time of Jiménez's killing. Toruño said that someone else could have been using the cellphone and that "technological advances" in instant messaging did not permit the court to know Volz's whereabouts when he was sending messages.

There was no physical evidence tying Volz, or anyone else, to the scene of the crime. The judge and prosecutor both criticized the crime scene worker, Noel Martín Corea, with Toruño saying he "didn't even know what he analyzed, he cannot even describe it, he cannot even read his own report."

But Corea's mistakes didn't hurt the prosecution's case.

"The fact that there is no hair, nor semen, nor saliva, nor fingerprints from Eric Volz or the other young man does not signify they weren't there," said Ibarra, the prosecutor.

The conviction rested largely on the testimony of Nelson López, a 24-year-old surfing instructor who was initially arrested in the crime but was granted immunity for his testimony against Volz. On the witness stand, he rambled and admitted to being a drunk.

López said Volz had asked him to be outside Jiménez's shop at 1 p.m., just after the slaying. He also said Volz paid him a few dollars to receive a pair of bags that he carried out of the store. López then walked a few feet, he said, and placed the bags in a car.

Rojas said that it defies logic that a killer would ask someone to be outside the crime scene and would pay someone to carry two bags, which López acknowledged were very light.

Volz is now hoping that a three-judge tribunal in Granada will rule favorably on his appeal, a decision that could be made this month.

Family and friends are not taking any chances. They have set up a Web site for Volz and produced a video about the case that has had nearly 100,000 viewings on YouTube. Volz's mother, Maggie Anthony, has quit her job as an interior designer, devoting herself full time to raising money for the defense and traveling to Nicaragua.

"We spent our life savings in attorneys' fees, hotel rooms and airfares," she said. "This is what you do for your children."

Volz spends his days in La Modelo. He receives frequent visitors, though the authorities have begun to bar reporters. He's read an autobiography by Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, a New Jersey boxer who has long contended he was framed for murder. And Volz answers notes sent by friends, telling them he tries to remain upbeat.

"I am in prison, but the prison is not in me," he said. "I have learned that I can endure."


<          3

© 2007 The Washington Post Company