Statement of Facts in Connection with Eric Volz's Whereabouts on November 21, 2006
I. The Facts:
Doris Jimenez was killed Tuesday, November 21, 2006, between 11:45 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua. Her body was found at about 2:00 p.m. inside a clothing store she owned. She was tied, strangled and asphyxiated. Doris was popular and attractive and her murder deeply unsettled this small tourist town.
Eric Volz was two hours away in Managua at the time of the murder. Eric, at the time, a 27-year-old American, had been living in Nicaragua for some two years. Not only were there 10 witnesses who saw him in Managua during the time of the murder, none of the physical evidence recovered from the scene linked Eric to the crime. Indeed, none of the blood, fluid, hair, or other physical evidence collected at the scene had any tie to Eric.
Throughout the day of the murder Eric was in Managua at the house where he lived and worked. Eric's house in Managua served as the offices of EP Magazine -- a sustainable development and lifestyle magazine. Eric awoke there early that morning and entered the office area at around 9:15 a.m. The housekeeper, security guard and no fewer than five EP workers were there at the time and saw Eric.
At about 10:30 a.m., Eric received a visit from two women interested in EP Magazine. They met with Eric until approximately 11:00 a.m. Around noon, Eric met with Ricardo Castillo, a well-regarded journalist and a potential contributing editor for EP Magazine. The meeting between Eric and Castillo included a telephone conference call between Eric, Castillo and a US business contact in Atlanta, Ga., Nick Purdy. This 54-minute conference call, which ended at 1:14 p.m., is supported by phone records. Purdy also had digital time-stamped instant messages from Eric showing that, in total, the two men were engaged in intensive business communications from approximately 9:21 a.m. until 2:07 p.m.
After the call with Purdy, Eric, Castillo and Adam Paredes (an EP employee) had a curried fish and vegetable lunch prepared by the EP housekeeper, Martha. This lunch was witnessed by several EP colleagues. Castillo left the EP house around 2:00 p.m.
Eric was at the house in Managua and in the presence of five people when he received the news that Doris was dead. He received that news from a friend of Doris' who called his cell phone and spoke to Eric at 2:43 p.m. At about that same time, yet another witness, Rossy, arrived and saw Eric at his house in Managua.
At around 3:00pm, Eric rented a car to go to San Juan del Sur quickly and assist her family. Eric's own car was old and slow and he often rented a car for the trip to San Juan. The car was delivered by Hertz Rent-A-Car to the Managua house. Eric did not meet with the rental car staff himself, however; one of his employees brought him the rental car credit vouchers for Eric to sign. The rental car contract was printed by Hertz Rent-A-Car at 3:11 p.m.
In addition to the witnesses above, Eric's defense was also able to secure cell phone records, known as "cell site" records (showing the location of the cell phone at the time a call is received by, or made from, a cell phone). Eric’s records showed that he was using his cell phone in Managua that day, including the time of the murder and until late afternoon when he departed for San Juan del Sur to be with Doris' family. The first call Eric made that day outside of the Managua area did not occur until 4:38 p.m.
II. The Arrest and Prosecution of Eric Volz:
Despite the conclusive evidence placing Eric two hours away in Managua at the time of the crime in San Juan del Sur, the police issued an arrest warrant for Eric, as well three others: Armando Llanes, Nelson Lopez-Danglas and Julio Chamorro, for the murder of Doris Jimenez. These arrest warrants were based on the prosecution's first theory that Eric and Llanes, Doris' current boyfriend, went inside the store with Danglas and Chamorro - two known, petty criminals and drug users from San Juan - and raped and killed Doris. This version of events appears to have come from an unsigned confession of Chamorro.
A few days after his arrest, Lopez-Danglas apparently confessed that at 1:00 p.m. he was outside the store and saw Eric and an unknown man inside the store. Lopez-Danglas, who at the time of his arrest had injuries to his penis and scratches on his neck, torso, forearms and hands, stated that Eric asked him to meet him at 1:00 p.m. in front of Doris' store and paid him 50 cordobas (approximately $3.00 US) to move two bags into a white car. In return for this testimony against Eric, Danglas was released and all charges against him were dropped.
Llanes, who is from wealthy Nicaraguan family, presented a piece of paper from a registrar's office in support of his alibi that he was registering for college classes at the time of the crime. Based on this one piece of paper, the prosecution dismissed all charges against Llanes - without questioning him and without securing any of his hair or blood samples. Indeed, Llanes was never arrested, despite the fact that he was charged and that a warrant was issued for his arrest.
Eric and Chamorro were ordered to be held for trial. The prosecution moved forward despite: (1) no one other than Lopez-Danglas, a known criminal, claimed to have seen Eric in San Juan the day of the crime; (2) the police interviewed several people who testified that Eric was in Managua at the time of the murder; and, (3) absolutely no physical evidence (blood, saliva, hair, fibers or semen) linked Eric to the crime. On the date that Eric was ordered to stand trial, there was a riot outside the courthouse in Rivas where he was chased by and nearly killed by a street mob brandishing machetes.
The prosecution presented several witnesses at trial. Only a few had any connection to a case against Eric. Specifically, the prosecution's evidence against Eric was as follows:
As to physical evidence, the prosecution called several medical examiners who testified that they reviewed the physical evidence collected at the scene (i.e., hair, fluid, and blood) and that none of their tests showed a link to Eric. For example, the medical examiners testified that a small amount of blood found on a sheet used to wrap the deceased was blood type “O” and that Eric was type “A”. Additionally, the examiner’s testimony stated that although over 103 hair samples were collected from the scene, not one could be linked to Eric. In short, no physical evidence connected Eric to the crime scene.
The prosecution called Gabriela Vanessa Sobalvarro, a friend of the deceased, who testified that she called Eric on his cell phone and told him Doris was dead. The cell site records confirm Eric was in Managua when he received her call at 2:43 p.m. She testified that Eric told her that he would rent a car and go to San Juan.
Doris' mother took the stand to testify that Eric's family offered to pay her $1 million to drop the charges. To be clear, Eric's family made no such offer nor do they have any such means. Indeed, the family had liquidated their savings, held benefit concerts to raise funds, and sought donations from friends to provide Eric a solid defense effort. In what was nothing short of a full blown media campaign in Nicaragua against Eric, Doris' mother, in an effort to inflame the passions of the people of Rivas and San Juan, launched a series of preposterous accusations, wholly unsupported by the facts and the evidence.
The prosecution called Victor Jose Morales Gutierrez, a Hertz employee who testified that he delivered a car to Eric's EP house in Managua in the afternoon of the date of the murder. He also testified that a friend of Eric's wanted him to testify that he saw Eric at the time of car delivery although he did not. Rental car documents, however, show that Eric personally signed the credit card vouchers, and that the car was delivered after 3:00 p.m. the day of the crime.
The prosecution also relied on Chamarro's unsigned confession that he was in San Juan del Sur and saw Eric and Armando Llanes commit the crime. The introduction of Chamorro's unsigned confession into evidence was particularly egregious. First, because Chamorro did not testify at trial, Eric's defense was not able to cross-examine him regarding that statement. Second, because Chamorro's confession identified Llanes as one of two other murderers, the prosecution had, in essence, disregarded the confession when it dismissed all the charges against Llanes. Finally, by presenting an alibi witness to testify at trial that Chamorro was eating lunch at the time of the murder, Chamorro refuted his own statement. Thus, despite the fact that Chamarro recanted, the fact that the defense had no opportunity to cross examine Chamarro as to either version of events, and that the prosecution had already disregarded the confession in dismissing the charges against Llanes, Chamarro's confession implicating Eric and Llanes, was admitted into evidence, but only against Eric and Chamarro.
Finally, the prosecution called the only witness who could offer direct trial testimony against Eric: Lopez-Danglas, the former co-defendant now turned government witness. He testified that he saw Eric leave the store on the afternoon of the murder, and that he was outside of the store because Eric had asked him to be there. According to several media accounts, Danglas was visibly incoherent on the stand, and appeared to be under the influence of narcotics. He also admitted his drug use and bad character, admitting that he was a drug user and lazy "but not a liar."
When the prosecution rested its case only one witness placed Eric in San Juan, a drug user and former co-defendant turned government witness, Danglas. Perhaps more importantly, while no fewer than 103 individual hairs collected at the scene, there was no physical evidence linking Eric to the crime. Indeed, although the prosecution tried to argue that Eric had some scratches on the back of his shoulder (their sole argument on the physical evidence), the forensic tests conducted on the deceased's body confirmed that there was no skin or blood underneath her fingernails. This easily proved that even if Eric had scratches on the back of his shoulder there is no link between that and the murder. Further, the prosecution failed to establish that Doris had been raped, making Eric's conviction for that crime equally unsupportable.
III. The Defense Case:
As noted above, no less than ten witnesses were available to reaffirm their prior sworn statements that Eric was in Managua at the time of the murder. However, due to the judge’s limitation on the number of witnesses allowed to testify on the grounds that more would be “redundant.” Only four witnesses (including Eric) were allowed to testify that Eric was in Managua during the time of the murder. Even so, the defense case was overwhelming. Indeed, it was conclusive. The following witnesses were permitted to testify on Eric's behalf:
Ricardo Castillo, a highly regarded and internationally recognized Nicaraguan journalist who has worked with the BBC of London and The Washington Post, among other papers and news media, testified that he was with Eric the afternoon of the murder. Castillo, who had only recently met Eric and had no financial interest in EP Magazine, testified that he was meeting and having lunch with Eric from about noon to 2:00 p.m.
Nick Purdy is an American businessman and journalist who was exploring the possibility of contributing to EP Magazine. On the day of the murder, Mr. Purdy testified, and telephone records confirm, that he was on the phone with Eric and Mr. Castillo for 54 minutes, from 12:19 to 1:14 p.m., the exact time the prosecution claims Eric was in San Juan committing the murder. Mr. Purdy also produced his instant messaging notes and testified that he and Eric were communicating on-line for most of the morning and early afternoon.
Rossy Aguello is a hairdresser who had a standing appointment to cut Eric's hair the afternoon of the murder. Rossy testified that she arrived at the EP house to cut Eric's hair at approximately 2:00 p.m. and saw Eric at the house. She was also present when Hertz delivered the rental car.
Finally, Eric took the stand and testified that he had been at his home in Managua throughout the day of the murder and denied that he had any involvement in Doris' death.
The testimony of the defense witnesses and the lack of evidence presented by the prosecution would not prove sufficient. Residents of the town of Rivas, where the trial was taking place, were congregating outside the courtroom. At one point the police fired warning shots to disperse the crowd. The shots clearly served to scare the judge and others in the courtroom.
IV. The Court's Sentencing:
During the Court's preliminary sentence on February 16, 2007, the Court barred US Embassy personnel, who had traveled the two hours from Managua, from re-entering the courtroom. On February 21, 2007, when the Court was to give the full basis for its ruling and sentencing, the judge never appeared. Instead, the judge had a clerk read her decision to those present in the Court.
After close examination of the full transcripts of the trial and the sentencing, this is a summation of the judge’s ruling:
The Court disqualified rejected the testimony of Ricardo Castillo, Nick Purdy, Rossy Aguello, and Eric. She refused to credit the testimony of the medical examiners who testified that none of the evidence at the scene could be linked to Eric.
She refused to accept evidence of the phone records showing Eric was on a telephone conference call in Managua. She disregarded the cell site records and the instant messaging notes provided by Purdy. The judge instead relied solely on the testimony of admitted drug addict Lopez-Danglas, who had been earlier charged with the murder, then released and given full immunity in exchange for his testimony against Eric.
The judge also appears to have relied on a picture of Eric that she claimed showed he had a scratch on the back of his shoulder. She relied on this even though the physical evidence showed that the victim had no blood under her fingernails, and therefore did not scratch her assailant. and in the face of Eric's testimony that he had linear bruises on his right shoulder as a result of carrying Doris' coffin during her funeral services.
Despite the testimony of reliable witnesses, the lack of any physical evidence placing Eric at the scene of the crime, the fact that Lopez-Danglas is a known drug addict who testified against Eric in return for full immunity, the judge declared Eric guilty of the murder and rape of Doris, sentencing him to 30 years, Nicaragua’s maximum sentence.