I think the below story illustrates that you still need need to be careful while traveling/living abroad in certain countries that do not have the same cultural norms or rules of law that may exist in your home countries.
Romance, a Murder
And an American
In Nicaraguan Jail
Mr. Volz, Found Guilty,
Appeals 30-Year Sentence;
By JOHN LYONS
March 19, 2007; Page A1
SAN JUAN DEL SUR, Nicaragua -- Eric Volz saw himself as a bridge between American baby boomers looking for beachside dream homes and local families of fishermen and laborers in this languid Pacific village. A surfer turned real-estate broker, Mr. Volz, 27 years old, published a bilingual magazine called El Puente -- literally, The Bridge.
But now he's tumbled deep into Nicaragua's cultural divide. Mr. Volz is a few weeks into a 30-year sentence for allegedly killing his girlfriend, a ruling he says is ludicrous and he is appealing. Several eyewitnesses said he was in another town at the time of the crime, testimony that was dismissed by the judge. Many here remain convinced of his guilt, partly because he acted the way a headstrong American might, not a bridge-builder, and that appeared suspicious.
The victim's mother became so suspicious of him that she organized angry protests outside the courthouse. Closing arguments were punctuated by demonstrators shouting "Viva Nicaragua!" as police fired warning shots to hold them back.
• See a Web site set up by Eric Volz's parents as part of their efforts to free him from Nicaraguan jail: www.friendsofericvolz.com
• See the Web site for the bilingual magazine that Mr. Volz had started: www.elpuentemag.com
In the past few years, the young Americans who flock to San Juan to surf have been joined by an older generation looking to build retirement homes. Although few have been built so far, real-estate offices, hotels and bars are sprouting up in anticipation of a boom. Beneath the gloss, though, San Juan remains a small town where outsiders are never totally above suspicion.
Doris Jimenez, 25, was one of the locals excited by the changes. She quit her job as a waitress to start a clothing boutique, Sol Fashion, and started dating Mr. Volz, a cocksure, curly-haired native of Nashville, Tenn., who speaks fluent Spanish. He helped her write a business plan and set up her store, and encouraged her to take computer and English classes. She strived for a version of American chic, sometimes wearing a T-shirt that said, in English, "Hotter than your girlfriend."
Backpacker in the '90s
Mr. Volz first encountered Nicaragua as a backpacker in the late 1990s. After studying Latin America at the University of California, San Diego, he moved to San Juan to surf and pursue a dream of starting a bilingual magazine. To fund the venture, he took a job at Century 21's busy San Juan office. He says he was making $100,000 a year, in a country where most people live on a few dollars a day.
But the relationship between the two young people displeased some in Ms. Jimenez's family, especially when Mr. Volz would call her after midnight -- and she would meet him. "It was disrespectful," says Ms. Jimenez's mother, Mercedes Alvarado, mimicking how her daughter would jump out of bed and fluff her hair before going to see Mr. Volz. When he moved two hours away to Managua in the middle of last year and the romance turned into casual dating, Ms. Alvarado took it as another slap at her daughter's honor.
"I was trying to keep it mellow," says Mr. Volz.
On Nov. 21, 2006, Ms. Jimenez was found gagged and strangled in the backroom of her boutique. Seven eyewitnesses provided testimony that they were with Mr. Volz all that day in his Managua home-office. They vouched that when he received the call with the bad news, he rented a car and sped to San Juan. Along the way, he picked up Ms. Jimenez's father, who is divorced from her mother. Phone records show calls being made from Mr. Volz's phone through Managua cell towers starting at around 10 a.m., and moving through new coverage areas headed to the coast.
Mr. Volz says he was appalled at what he saw in San Juan. Police acted "dismissively" to the victim's father, he says, and so many local officials milled about the Sol Fashion store, he feared they could inadvertently wreck evidence. Although Mr. Jimenez stood silently, as is customary in Latin towns where police are treated with caution, Mr. Volz says he pressed police for information. Later that day, at the police station, he became "stern" with an investigator who he felt wasn't following all leads. After that, rumors started to fly that Mr. Volz had confessed to the crime, which he denies.
Even his offer to pay for an autopsy by specialists from Managua raised suspicions. Ms. Alvarado says she figured that anyone willing to do that must be trying to rig the results. She had the body embalmed.
"I'm not naïve, I knew that you're not supposed to get too involved," Mr. Volz said. "But it's hard to put that kind of advice into practice when it's someone you care about."
On Nov. 23, Mr. Volz helped carry the coffin at Ms. Jimenez's burial. Later that day, he was stunned when police cuffed him, and prosecutors charged him and three other men with rape and murder. The rape charge further heightened local emotions, even though a crime scene report and an autopsy -- conducted after Ms. Jimenez was embalmed -- didn't conclude rape occurred.
Truckloads of Protesters
Worried that the local court would free an American to avoid problems with the U.S., Ms. Alvarado, an organizer for the ruling Sandinista party, arranged for truckloads of protesters to surround the tin-roofed courthouse for a Dec. 7 preliminary hearing. "I wasn't going to let the murderers of my daughter have impunity," she says.
At the hearing, prosecutors dropped charges against two Nicaraguan defendants. With crowds building outside, that left Mr. Volz in the docket along with Martin Chamorro, a lanky San Juan native. According to the official court summary of the trial, Mr. Chamorro was seen with fresh wounds near the store around the time of the murder. In addition, a store owner testified that Mr. Chamorro had been grumbling that Ms. Jimenez only dated gringos.
After the hearing, police hustled Mr. Chamorro into a pickup and sped off, leaving Mr. Volz and a U.S. Embassy security officer, Mike Poehlitz, to face the angry crowds. With dozens of protesters at their heels, they fled to a gymnasium office and barricaded the door. After Mr. Poehlitz called the local police for help, the pair broke through the office's particle-board back wall, crept through a workout area, and escaped into a waiting police pickup truck.
At the trial, the judge threw out the eyewitness reports, cell-tower records and other evidence that Mr. Volz was in another city at the time of the killing. The judge ruled that the witnesses lacked credibility because they were employees or prospective business partners of Mr. Volz. She said the cell-tower evidence proved nothing because anyone could have used the phone.
Prosecutors didn't produce blood, hair or other physical evidence. "The police did such a bad job handling the evidence that it's really unusable, either for the prosecution or the defense," says one of the prosecutors, Isolda Ibarra.
Instead, the judge relied on the testimony of one of the original defendants, Nelson Lopez Dangla, who testified for the prosecution after charges against him were dropped. Mr. Lopez Dangla testified that he saw Mr. Volz coming out of the Sol Fashion store at the time police say the crime occurred. On the stand, Mr. Lopez Dangla said he was "an alcoholic" but "not a liar," according to defense attorney Fabbrith Gomez, who was there. Mr. Lopez Dangla couldn't be reached for comment.
Investigators also testified that a scratch on Mr. Volz's back was made by Ms. Jimenez's fingernails -- though no tissue was found under her nails, forensic reports show. Mr. Volz says he got the scratches carrying her coffin on his shoulders.
Finding them guilty of rape and murder, the judge gave 30-year sentences to Mr. Volz and Mr. Chamorro, who is also appealing. Now, Mr. Volz awaits his appeal in Nicaragua's maximum-security Modelo prison. Guards bring a single plate of beans and rice per day and water must be retrieved in a bucket. His family, back in Tennessee, has held benefit concerts to raise money and hired someone to bring him fresh vegetables.
"The experience has opened my eyes to a lot of things," Mr. Volz says.