Eric Volz Conviction Reversed, But He's Not Free
Back in March 23, 2007, I wrote an essay about Eric Volz, an American convicted in Nicaragua of a murder he didn't commit. The victim was his girl friend; he had proof that he was far away in Managua when the murder took place. He was convicted anyway in what I felt was a classic, ugly miscarriage of justice. And he was sentenced to 30 years' imprisonment. He's been locked up ever since in Nicaragua. Now there's some good news and some bad news about the case.
The good news is that the conviction has been reversed. The bad news is that Eric Volz is not free and that the government will apparently seek a further appeal in the case to the Supreme Court of Nicaragua. He may be detained until that appeal is completed.
This from The Wall Street Journal:
Days after a Nicaraguan appeals court threw out his murder conviction and ordered him freed immediately, Eric Volz, a 28-year-old surfer-turned real-estate broker, is still in custody. His case is taking bizarre new turns that shine a spotlight on the unpredictability of the Nicaraguan legal system.
The delay also brought a fresh round of exasperation for Mr. Volz's family members, who believed Monday that Mr. Volz was on the verge of walking out of custody and on to a jet home. "I feel like my son has been kidnapped," Maggie Anthony, the man's mother, said by telephone.
The U.S. Embassy in Managua issued a statement on Tuesday calling on local authorities to implement the appeals court order freeing him, and return his passport. "We trust that the Nicaraguan authorities will ensure the safety and well being of Mr. Volz while he is in custody."
Mr. Volz's lawyer, Fabbrith Gomez accused court officials of using illegal tactics to delay Mr. Volz's release while they regroup and attempt to mount a new case, or a Supreme Court appeal. For example, under Nicaraguan law, before Mr. Volz can be freed, the lower court judge who first convicted him must acknowledge the appeals court ruling with a signature. That judge has so far avoided signing. She didn't show up at her courthouse when the papers arrived, claiming she had a flat tire, members of Mr. Volz's defense team have said. Later, the judge claimed to have returned the unsigned papers back to the appeals court on the grounds that the pages of the appeals court ruling weren't numbered correctly. The appeals court, meantime, says the papers were never received – and the whereabouts of the ruling are unknown at this time.
It's hard to imagine a legal system in which a judge's signature on original documents can hold up release of a defendant and the documents are driven across the country to be signed. This case has previously required a suspension of disbelief, so that may be appropriate again now.
CNN makes the procedure seem only slightly more rational:
Nicaraguan prosecutors are appealing a court's decision that overturned an American man's conviction in the killing of his former girlfriend and set the stage for his release, officials said.
Magazine publisher Eric Volz's mother says she's concerned for his safety.
The office of Isadora Ibarra, prosecuting attorney, said she had left Wednesday to deliver the appeal to Granada.
Eric Volz, 28, of Nashville, Tennessee, remains in custody despite the Monday ruling by a Nicaraguan appeals court that he should be released immediately.
His attorney, Fabbrith Gomez, has said the Managua judge who sentenced Volz -- Ivette Toruno Blanco -- was stalling on signing court documents, holding up his release. Blanco has said the documents were incorrectly numbered and returned to Granada, Gomez said.
So the craziness of this case continues. Eric Volz is not yet free. His case may be headed for a Supreme Court review. I have been unable to find information about whether bail is available to Volz pending a further appeal by the Government.
For updates: click here.