Eric Volz was born on 19 May 1979, the son of a former member of the Christian rock band ‘The 77s’. His early years were spent in Sacramento, California before the family moved to Nashville, Tennessee. He began climbing at age 11 and after high school he moved to Meyers, California, where he worked as a carpenter, as a DJ at a local bar and pursued rock climbing. Volz attended the University of California, San Diego, where he majored in Latin American Studies. After graduation in 2005 Volz, fluent in Spanish from Mexican heritage on his mother’s side, moved to Nicaragua, Central America. He settled in San Juan del Sur, a fishing town and tourist destination, with a population of about 20,000 people, on the Pacific coast. Volz sold real estate for the Century 21 company, becoming successful in the booming real estate business, particularly with an influx of Americans wanting to snap up relatively cheap pieces of paradise. With the money he accumulated from real estate Volz set up the bilingual magazine, EP, short for El Puente, ‘the bridge’. EP magazine was devoted to furthering understanding between the ‘gringo’, or foreigner culture, and local Nicaraguans, as well as promoting sustainable development and eco-tourism. In San Juan del Sur, Volz dated local woman Doris Jimenez. The pair was together for a year but had separated amicably by mid-2006. Volz moved to the capital city, Managua, to further EP which was gaining a name for itself and was proving a viable business opportunity.
Because of public sentiment running high against him, Volz elected for trial before a judge instead of a jury. Volz was held in a number of prisons and was repeatedly threatened and had to spend a week in a medical ward. The trial was set down for 26 January 2007 and a pre-trial judge, at a special hearing, ordered Volz released to house arrest until the date, which was eventually delayed until 14 February 2007.The trial was heard before a specialised trial judge, Dr Ivette Turuno Blanco. Volz’s family were plainly struggling to understand the Nicaraguan justice system and comments they made were seized upon by the partisan local press. Jimenez’s mother, Mercedes Alvarado, spurred public sentiment by claiming she had been offered $1,000,000 to testify to Volz’s innocence, an offer the Volz family were in no position to make and that they emphatically denied. The Volz family had mobilised public support in the United States in favour of their son and the trial was followed by thousands of well-wishers, through internet blogs written by Volz’s parents who had nearly bankrupted themselves to pay for his defence.Court files show the original charges of murder were against Volz and Llanes, Jimenez’s boyfriend at the time of the murder. The charges were based on Lopez’s ‘confession’ but were later amended to include all four men, Volz, Llanes, Lopez and Dangla. They were further amended to charge only Lopez and Volz after Llanes produced his alibi and Dangla turned state’s witness.Dangla was the prosecution’s star witness. He testified that he had seen Volz on the morning of the murder in San Juan and that Volz had told Dangla to meet him at Sol Fashion at 1pm. Dangla said Volz came out of the store at 1pm, handed him two bags full of what felt like clothes and told him to put them in the car. Volz then allegedly paid Dangla 50 cordobas before driving off in the direction of Managua. Jimenez’s mother testified to Volz’s jealousy but the only witness to put Volz at the scene was Dangla, whose testimony was so poorly presented it was laughed at by all present, including the judge.The defence case attempted to detail Volz’s alibi, including the ten or so people who had seen him in Managua up to, during and after the murder, but the judge threw out all but three witnesses. A hairdresser testified she had cut Volz’s hair on the afternoon in question and the other two witnesses, the American business contact and the journalist Ricardo Castillo, testified to being in a meeting with him the whole time. The defence showed that none of the physical evidence at the crime scene had come from Volz. Both Lopez and Dangla had fingernail scratches on their arms and Dangla had multiple scratches to various parts of his body. Volz testified in his own defence. When asked how he had got the scratch found on his shoulder he answered, “I got it carrying Doris's casket at the funeral”.Lopez, Volz’s co-accused, had one witness called in his defence and did not take the stand himself. Outside the court, tempers were running high and a mob of hundreds of Nicaraguans was being held back by national police. During the defence summation, shooting began as riot police battled enraged protestors.The judge returned her verdict after two hours deliberation. On 15 February 2007 she rejected all Volz’s witnesses to his alibi, told him it was impossible to get scratches from carrying a coffin and that it was impossible to get to San Juan del Sur as quickly as he did from the capital. She found both defendants guilty and sentenced them to the maximum term of 30 years. The mob outside the court celebrated wildly, shouting “Justice!” and whistling.
Born: 19 May 1979 – Eric VolzVictim: 21 November 2006 – Doris Ivania Jimenez raped and murdered in NicaraguaArrested: 23 November 2006Trial: 14 February – Trial begins in San Juan del Sur, NicaraguaConvicted: 15 February 2007 – Volz convicted of murderSentenced: 15 February 2007 – 30 years in a Nicaraguan prison 17 December 2007 – Conviction overturned by three-judge panel in appeals court 21 December 2007 – Volz freed and returned to the United States
The Key Figures
Eric Volz: American businessman, ex-boyfriend of Doris Jimenez, prime suspect in her murderDoris Jimenez: Nicaraguan businesswoman, murder victimJulio Martin Chamorro Lopez: murder suspectNelson Antonio Lopez Dangla: Lopez's friend, murder suspect turned star witness for the prosecutionArmando Llanes: murder suspect, boyfriend of Jimenez at the time of her deathDr Ivette Turuno Blanco: Trial judge at the murder trial
Initial public speculation was that the vicious murder had been a robbery gone wrong but police soon dispelled that by issuing warrants for four men. Two of the men were local surfers, known drug-users and petty criminals. They were Julio Martin Chamorro Lopez, 30, known as Rosita, and Nelson Antonio Lopez Dangla, 24, known as Krusty. Lopez had been arrested because a policeman had seen him near the store, shirtless, with fresh scratches and acting nervous. His friend Dangla was arrested soon after. The third person sought by police was Armando Llanes, 20, who had been casually dating Jimenez at the time of her death. Llanes produced a statement from officials at his university that proved an alibi and he was not taken into custody.Despite being two hours away from the crime scene and having a detailed alibi, the fourth man arrested was 27-year-old Eric Volz, Jimenez’s ex-boyfriend. On the morning of Jimenez’s murder Volz was at his home in Managua, which doubled as the offices of EP magazine. He entered the office area of the house at about 9.15am and was seen by five co-workers, the security guard and the housekeeper. Over the course of the morning Volz had a series of meetings with various people including the journalist Ricardo Castillo and a conference call with a business contact in Atlanta, Georgia, that ended at 1.14pm.At 2.43pm, in front of five people, Volz received a call from a friend of Jimenez’s informing him of her death. Visibly upset, he hurried to rent a car to drive to San Juan del Sur to support Jimenez’s family, leaving at about 3pm. Despite his apparent removal from the crime, he was arrested and charged with her murder shortly after the funeral on 23rd November 2006.In custody, Lopez pointed to Volz as the perpetrator. In an unsigned statement to police, that he later claimed had been extracted under torture, Lopez said Volz had offered him $5,000 to go to the store with him where the jealous ex-boyfriend, raging at her new relationship with Llanes, attacked, raped and murdered Jimenez. When arrested, Dangla had injuries to his penis and scratches on his neck, torso, arms and hands. He told police that Volz had paid him to meet him outside the fashion boutique and carry two bags into a car. The charges against Dangla were dropped in return for his testimony.Anti-foreigner sentiment was running high, due to rampant foreign investment and a developing culture of the ‘gringo haves’ and the ‘local have-nots’. Public opinion immediately turned against the American, with local papers running the headlines “Young businesswoman victim of jealous gringo’’ and “US Embassy advises accused gringo to keep quiet”. Several days before Volz’s arraignment on 7 December 2006, a car drove through San Juan del Sur with a loudspeaker asking people to “Bring justice to the gringo”. An angry mob were present at the arraignment and Volz and his defence team were attacked as they left, having to flee and take refuge in a nearby gymnasium.
On 21 November 2006, Doris Jimenez was raped and murdered in Sol Fashion, the clothing boutique she owned in San Juan del Sur. Jimenez, an attractive and well-liked 25-year-old woman, was last seen alive outside her store at 11.30am. At about 2pm a building watchman let himself into Jimenez’s store after noticing that, unusually, the shop was closed. He found Jimenez dead on the floor of the shop, her limbs tied together with bed sheets. She had been raped, sodomised, and suffocated. Screwed up paper and rags had been forced into her mouth, choking and killing her.
Volz’s defence team immediately appealed his conviction. Several members of the American government investigated the case and made appeals on Volz’s behalf and the Free Eric Volz movement continued to advocate for his release in the United States. On 17 December 2007 a three-judge panel overturned Volz’s conviction and set him free. Despite the ruling, some in the Nicaraguan judiciary seemed determined to keep Volz in prison. The prosecution tried to appeal the decision and the trial judge, Ivette Turuno Blanco, who had to sign the papers releasing him, did not come to work on the afternoon she was supposed to perform the task or for several days thereafter. Eventually, Volz’s mother appealed to the courts to free her son and an appeals court signed the release papers. On 21 December 2007, after over a year in jail, Volz was freed.Many Nicaraguans were still very much against Volz and had been suggesting he had only been released because of US government pressure. Fearing vigilante justice and reportedly suffering mentally and physically from his year in jail, Volz left Nicaragua the afternoon he was released from prison.