Jason Puracal with his sisters
More than five years ago, in the small town of San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua, a 28-year-old American expat from Tennessee named Eric Volz was charged with the murder of his beautiful ex-girlfriend. The 25-year-old woman, named Doris Ivania Alvarado Jiménez, had been raped and killed in a quiet town that was changing as Americans looking for cheap living near the ocean moved onto beachfront property. The locals didn't exactly enjoy the boom, and resentment toward outsiders grew. It seemed that Volz had found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, and eventually he was sentenced to life in prison, though the case against him was murky. Reporter Tony D'Souza covered the trial for Outside in 2006 and 2007. D'Souza's story, and others, drummed up media attenton that put a spotlight on Volz's imprisonment. Volz's family also fought to keep the story in the news, and in December of 2007, he was released from a Nicaraguan prison and returned to the United States.
Now, Volz has begun a fight to try and free an American from the same prison where he was kept. Jason Puracal, who moved to Central America as a Peace Corps volunteer in 2002, was arrested in his San Juan del Sur home in November 2011, and was later given a sentence of 22 years for drug trafficking and money laundering. The real estate agent with a Nicaraguan wife and a 4-year-old son went to prison.
When Volz found out about the case, he turned to change.org, the same site where Trayvon Martin's mother made an appeal to get her son's death noticed. Volz teamed with former DEA Director Tom Cash to ask for Puracal's release on a petition that has acquired more than 80,000 signatures.
“I’ve investigated some of the world’s largest drug kingpins, including Pablo Escobar,” said Cash in a press release. “While there are certainly a lot of drug traffickers in Nicaragua, Jason Puracal is not one of them.”
When reached by email, Volz said not a single shred of evidence was presented at the case. "It is impossible to talk about justice with a judicial branch that is held hostage by outside interests, in a system in which judges are more likely to follow orders from political party leaders instead of ruling according to law," he said. "While there is a component of wrongful conviction to Jason's case, this is more accurately categorized as a, what we refer to here at the David House Agency, as an 'institutional kidnapping.'"
Volz is the managing director of the David House Agency, which is an international crisis resource organization that provides services to Americans facing complex legal and political situations abroad. He noted that the California Innocence Project has taken up Puracal's case as one of 10 they will fight this year. The project fights for the rights of those they believe to be wrongly imprisoned. The following passage below is an excerpt of the reasons the California Innocence Project believes Puracal is not guilty.
On November 11, 2010, the Nicaraguan police showed up at Jason’s office wearing masks and carrying AK rifles. They raided the office and seized all the computers and files. They then went to Jason’s house, wearing the same masks and carrying the same AKs. The police forced their way into the house without a warrant while Jason’s 65-year-old mother—a medical doctor who was visiting from the U.S.—and his 4-year-old son were sleeping. The police searched Jason’s office, house, and truck and found no evidence of any crime. They nonetheless arrested Jason, and he has been held in a Nicaraguan prison ever since.
Jason was beaten while in transit to the prison and has been denied food, water, and proper medical care. Jason (along with ten other defendants, none of whom he knows, including a man running for political office against the Sandinista government) was charged with drug trafficking, money laundering, and organized crime. After being held without evidence for nearly nine months, Jason was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to 22 years in a Nicaraguan prison by an appointee of the Socialist Sandinista government. That appointee is neither a judge nor a licensed attorney and has no legal right to adjudicate Jason’s fate.
Jason has repeatedly declared his innocence, and the prosecution's own witnesses at trial proved that Jason did not commit the crimes with which he was charged. The police witnesses testified that they never recovered any drugs in Jason’s possession or in Jason’s office, home, or truck. Indeed, the prosecution never entered a single gram of drugs in this supposed case of drug trafficking.
When asked whether there were similarities with his case, Volz responded by email. "There are similarities—the main one is that Jason is innocent, his family and friends, suffering along side him, are not going to stop fighting until he is free."