Monday, April 14, 2008
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Since my release seven weeks ago we have received thousands of letters from all over the world. The content ranges from celebration of the life of Doris, inquiries about my health, to the status of the case, conspiracy theories (some of which are true), cultural analysis, concern for the future of U.S.- Nicaragua relations, questions about elements of the case that remain unclear, people invested in Nicaragua who blame me for their losses, death threats, hate mail, interview requests from all over, etc. But the most common theme in the letters is refreshing - it is those who give thanks to the almighty creator for allowing this first chapter to be concluded in that way that it was.
There are a lot of issues that I have been dealing with that have kept me from sending an update before now, but I want to keep you informed as best as I'm able. I consider each and every one of you part of this story and I am very grateful for your on-going interest and support – it has greatly aided in my recovery!
I was really ill my first couple of weeks back on U.S. soil. I felt like the space shuttle reentering the atmosphere from another world and I had to de-tox before I came back. I'll talk more about what it has been like to re-enter society later, but like a space vehicle in reentry, after my release the case heated up before it cooled off. This didn't allow me the time I needed to rest and start the healing process as quickly as I'd hoped, but these are the steps I have to take.
My defense effort was forced to get right back to the grind after my release to bring attention to what was happening to the Appellate magistrates, (Roberto Rodriguez and Alejandro Estrada) who overturned the lower court's decision and declared me innocent. There was a powerful backlash by the Nicaraguan press because of my release. The Nicaraguan government was trying to wash their hands of the case and find some one to place the blame on.
These Appellate judges were under constant attack by the Sandinista magistrates (Rafael Solis and Alba Luz Ramos) of the Supreme Court who were exerting significant influence to try these men for ruling on the merits of my case and upholding the law and constitution. The Appellate magistrates received death threats, faced imprisonment, and loss of their positions.
As a result, two weeks after I was released, I went to New York and did a series of news features with the purpose of putting the spotlight back on the corruption of the Sandinistas Supreme court justices. My visit to New York was timed to coincide with the hearing dates in which the appellate magistrates were being tried.
I offered interviews to the New York Times, the Today Show, Anderson Cooper of CNN, and the two largest Spanish-speaking networks on the air, Telemundo and Univision. I came prepared and was very deliberate in my interviews, citing what group was fronting the efforts to undermine the justice that had been delivered. The day after the features aired, the Supreme Court magistrates Rafael Solis and Alba Luz Ramos stopped showing up to work, they were hiding from the press, and ceased attending the hearings that they had initiated. Once again, the press proved it's power.
[Last week the results of the investigation of the Appellate magistrates were announced. There would be no sanctions against either of the Appellate magistrates – great news! The President of the Supreme Court in Nicaragua stated that, "…the Supreme Court's investigations have concluded that the Magistrates of the Court of Appeals in Granada, Robert Francisco Rodriguez and Alejandro Estrada, who ordered Volz released by revoking the original sentence, and Norman Miranda, who dissented via a vote for annulment of the original sentence, acted according to their own criteria and in accordance with the law."]
I spent last week in Washington, D.C. where I met with members of the State Department, sharing with them some of the, so far, unpublished pieces of this story, as well as giving them the opportunity to explain the methods in which they chose to approach my case with. In addition, I visited with key members of Congress who were the most instrumental in championing my case on the Hill. It was a great opportunity for me to both thank them for their efforts as well as investigate how your letters and out reach asking for their support actually translated into action. It was a very informative visit that provided much clarity and more pieces to the puzzle.
Many of you have asked in the letters what I'm doing now. I want to reiterate my commitment to tell the entirety of this experience. My estimation is that only 20% of the story is known to those outside my family and defense team. I have decided to write a book as it has become clear that it is the only medium that can encompass this rich journey. I promise, if you thought what you know is surreal and insane, just wait until the "real story" is published!
I must mention that I also feel that a complete account of this piece of history could be very healing for many people and collectively for the US and Nicaragua relationship. As many of you point out in your letters, the events that followed Doris's murder have exposed and deepened a great wound between our two nations. It is my belief that a thorough account of this story will clarify many twisted misunderstandings and subsequently be a step toward bridging the gap.
One of the great pleasures I have had since my release is bumping into people who have been part of my support network these past 16 months. It has provided me a whole new level of understanding of the magnitude and impact of this ordeal. I have been greeted with tears by new friends; people approach me in the street and just grab me and hug me, many of them speechless that I'm really standing in front of them. Believe me, it's hard for me to grasp too, but I'm honored and humbled by your words, hopes and expressions of support. The depth of the community is astounding and I thank you!!!
Finally, we are in the process of re-designing our web site and consolidating the on-line community. One of the features we are compelled to focus on is other cases of injustice that we believe need the attention and support of this powerful and committed community. Whether you knew it or not, through your involvement in bringing attention to my story, you have in essence become what I've begun referring to as "shareholders in justice" and we will continue, with your help, to raise awareness for those in need of it!
Thank you for your letters and continuing to be part of the story!
Sunday, January 6, 2008
I'm sorry it's taken so long to send a message, but this is the first chance I've had to get this information out. The good news is that I actually typed this update directly into a computer, instead of passing hand-written letters to my attorney which were then scanned and emailed to my support team, transcribed, typed, and blasted to the support network.
I will to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of you for your taking time out of your busy lives to follow this story. The many different ways you all showed support during the past 13 months contributed directly to my release. There is no way I could ever express my appreciation, gratitude, and wonder for this passionate community that has rallied for my freedom. I am very fortunate!!
Unfortunately, I am not celebrating my release. In fact, this is far from over! As you will see when you read the Declaration of New Facts (in Spanish & English) now posted on the web sites, my freedom has yet to be restored. The need for your continued involvement to secure justice remains: the Sandinista government is trying to overturn my release; and in order to divert attention from the fact that some of Doris' murderers are still free, are searching for another scapegoat on which to place blame.
I am still in hiding due to continued death threats. Though I haven't yet recovered physically, I must continue to fight! As an emerging community of ethically-motivated people who have gravitated to this story, you provide me the endurance and purpose to be fully committed to my ultimate responsibility: the pursuit of justice.
Friday, December 21, 2007
“Eric Volz was released from a Nicaraguan prison hospital earlier today and will be in hiding, due to reports of threats against him. We have reason to believe he is being followed and are taking every precaution to assure his safety.
Our family is overwhelmed by the incredible outpouring of support of Eric’s innocence over the past year. In the center of an impossible situation, we have experienced the most abundant love from friends and total strangers, and we thank you.
We are grateful to the courageous individuals in the Nicaraguan government who fought for truth and justice to prevail in this case as well to those in the US government who provided assistance in securing Eric’s release.
This ordeal has taken an incredible physical and emotional toll on all of us, especially Eric. We thank you in advance for respecting our privacy and allowing our family to recover.” FriendsofEricVolz
Tuesday, October 9, 2007
Based on the information that we read in the Nicaraguan media, we expected that the appellate decision would be made by now. When I left the penitentiary in May I never thought that I’d have to see Eric there again.
He’s still so frustrated! None of us can believe that it’s been nearly a year since his arrest. His spirits remain strong, but when I’m sitting there looking at Eric in the environment of the penitentiary, it’s inconceivable that he’s still suffering this injustice nearly 11 months later…it’s so wrong to see him there.
After five long months of expectation, and no decision by the appellate court, I returned to Nicaragua; it was time to see Eric.
I was able to visit him several times and bring him essential items that he desperately needed…food, reading materials, letters from those of you who have written and some homemade cookies from some dear friends. It was so good to see him again. It was great for both of us to see each another.
Many of you have inquired as to Eric’s health, safety and the status of the appellate process. Since our last communication, the prison has returned Eric’s nebulizer and asthma medicine and his breathing has improved. His overall health is somewhat better, but is still an ongoing issue.
As for Eric’s safety, while I was there, there was a violent riot in the penitentiary resulting in numerous injuries. Obviously, Eric’s safety continues to be of major concern.
Regarding the appellate process; there is no news. Eric's appeal remains in the possession of the appellate court and, at this time, we have no official word on the status or movement of the case. During the appeal process it is critical and his legal right that Eric have regular meetings with his attorney. However, prison officials have continually denied access to his attorney.
Despite the difficulties prison officials imposed, Eric and I were able to focus on the quality of our time together.
Eric still receives and reads every email, and though he can’t respond directly continues to refer to your messages as his “lifeline”. Eric asked me tell you that he still wants to hear from you - please continue to write to him.
I can’t begin to express the depth of pride I feel for the man that Eric’s choosing to become. He inspires me and I am honored to be his mother!
Friends of Eric Web Site
Monday, August 20, 2007
Out of concern for my safety, my defense team and I have been extremely passive and gracious to those responsible for this injustice. Some might be surprised to know that despite the overwhelming evidence proving my innocence and a growing network of global support, the indicators and nuances we are getting here tell us that my freedom is not getting any closer.
As I enter into my 9th month in prison with no word from the appellate court and with the authorities increasingly violating my rights to defense (see Appendix 1), it has become obvious that an adjustment to our approach is needed. I have waited as long as I can to write this letter, but as a man fighting for his life, I’m left with no other choice.
I’ll just get straight to the point – everyone wants to know what’s going on? “Why haven’t they ruled on your appeal?” In order for people to understand the context of the situation I need to give a short summary of some of the events that have taken place since the trial. I will share many details that have not yet been offered through the web updates as we have tried to keep the attention focused on the judicial process instead of all the hype surrounding it. This story has many branches so I have added appendices providing background information on some of the elements mentioned.
After I was found guilty by the district court, as many of you are aware, the story was picked up by some international press groups. Up to this point the only press coverage of the case had been by Nicaraguan media that, with the exception of two reports (see Appendix 2), was absolutely biased and determined to convince the Nicaraguan public that I had murdered Doris. By manipulating, filtering (see Appendix 3), and most of all utilizing prejudiced tones in the headlines, they succeeded in their goal and their dishonest version of the story has become “gospel”.
So when the international investigative journalists started providing coverage, it was really the first time the story had been told from an impartial perspective, even though the case was already more than three months old. And although it raised awareness around my situation, which has translated into amazing support from all over the world, the effect that it had on me here in Nicaragua was, for the most part, negative. Let me explain why…
The international press gathered the facts from all sides and for the first time the evidence supporting my innocence was reported. So, when contrasted to the biased version the Nicaraguan public had been fed, it was suddenly a much larger story that not only suggested that there is no way I could be guilty of what I was being accused of, but also leaves you questioning the legality of the judicial process of this case.
The Nicaraguan news sources that had deceived the public were suddenly faced with an embarrassing problem. They were being held accountable by the international media’s non-biased version of the story and many Nicaraguans were starting to take notice. The newspaper El Nuevo Diario (see Appendix 4) was the first to react and, as a strategy to save face, chose to further deceive the public by questioning the integrity of the international reporters and once again leveraging resentment against me and my family as they had done before the trial.
They started with an article called “Campana Peligrosa de Familia Volz” (Dangerous Campaign of the Volz family), in which they claimed that the international media was being directed by my family and that we were attempting to politicize the story by making reference to the political history between the U.S. and Nicaragua. In addition, they ran an article called “Derrocha de Dinero” (Squandering of Money), where they reported that my family was “spending enormous sums” to fund the international media coverage (this is of course absurd, besides the fact that we are all broke, anyone, who thinks logically, would know that a civilian family doesn’t have any influence over what is produced by CNN, NBC, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, or any other international media outlets. They report what sells). The Nicaraguan tabloid “Hoy” also attacked hard with a series of front page stories telling readers that the international news interest and web media was a result of my “power to manipulate.” Several Nicaraguan national TV news programs followed the newspaper’s lead and aired some reports on the “grand and potentially dangerous campaign of the Volz family.” (I encourage people to look these articles up and read them personally).
In essence, what these news sources were telling the Nicaraguan public is that the corporate news brands abroad were being influenced to present me as a victim. As a move to preserve their credibility they implied that the dishonest version of the story was not their own, but rather that of the international corporate networks. In addition, they further generated dislike for me and my team by saying that the foreign press coverage was giving Nicaragua a bad name, claiming its judicial system is corrupt - that was never said in any of the international media coverage.
The overall result of us being accused as the “directors or authors of a movement that was giving Nicaragua a bad image” generated a new wave of resentment toward me by those who had been once and again fooled by the Nicaraguan press (see Appendix 5). I immediately felt the consequences of that resentment in prison not only from fellow inmates, but by the authorities as well. The resentment had obviously become institutionalized because the warden stopped allowing me to do interviews and, in violation of my constitutional rights as a prisoner in the appeal process, dozens of Nicaraguan and international reporters were turned away without me even knowing. The public relations department of the penitentiary system was simply responding to inquiries by saying, “Eric doesn’t want to do anymore interviews.” CNN was even denied entrance despite the fact that they had a specific court order authorizing them to interview me. The message was clear – the authorities didn’t want the world to know the truth.
After almost three months a couple of progressive Nicaraguan journalists who were interested in telling my side of the story to the Nicaraguan public somehow managed to get permission to interview me in prison. On the afternoon of May 9 I was interviewed by Camilo de Castro from the TV news program “Esta Semana”, Xavier Reyes Alba from La Radio Trinchera, and Elizabeth Romero from the newspaper La Prensa (that three hour block was the first and only chance I have had to defend myself in the Nicaraguan press).
Since it was the first time the general Nicaraguan public would hear me speak and they were aware of how much slandering the press had done with me, all three journalists published the interviews in a neutral Q&A format. Due to the time and space constraints of their mediums, I only really got to scratch the surface, but I was able to share enough of my unheard story to apparently have really challenged the Nicaraguan public to reconsider what they had been told.
In fact, I was told by a source that 50% of San Juan del Sur believes that I’m innocent since those interviews were released, but that many are still apprehensive to acknowledge it publicly for fear of retaliation from Doris’ family. Another person told me that most of the people in Managua now believe that I’m both completely innocent and got set up, or that something mysterious went on in the judicial process.
Unfortunately, that series of interviews also caused the authorities to react by applying even more pressure on me in prison. You see, defending me means pointing out some of the inconsistencies in the accusations against me. For example, the judge said I was scratched by Doris on my shoulder, but the police report stated that there was no skin tissue or blood found under her nails. Or the fact that the district attorney prosecutor had evidence linking Danglas to the crime scene, but withheld it knowing that they were going to free him in exchange for his testimony against me. In other words, when I defend myself certain institutions here not only look bad, it makes people question their motives.
To my surprise, after the interviews there was virtually zero reaction in the press. The only rebuttal, to my knowledge, was an article in the tabloid “Hoy” refuting my explanation that the bruises on my shoulder were caused by carrying Doris’ coffin. The same article featured a side column where Doris’ mother demanded that the National Police present the “supposed declaration” in which, according to them, I admitted to the murder of Doris (see Appendix 6) - (as far as I know, this declaration “story” is the main reason why she was initially convince that I was guilty).
Now the police, as a result of my interviews, had Doris’ mother breathing down their neck. And although it points out many of the inconsistencies and contradictions in the case against me, it wasn’t enough to convince Doris’ mother of my innocence, it was enough to have pissed someone else off somewhere. The next day the prison guards started handcuffing me within the prison (see Appendix 7), cut my access to the telephone to one call per week, and started telling anyone who wanted to see me that they needed a court order, including my attorney (see Appendix 8).
Several weeks later on May 25, El Nuevo Diario newspaper ran a small article called “Trabajan en proyecto de anular juicio Volz” (They are working on the project of annulling the case of Volz) in which the secretary of the appellate court was interviewed saying that 75% of the case file had been reviewed by the magistrates presiding over my case and that they would be ruling “in the next couple of weeks” (which would have meant the 2nd week of June). He also explained that they were leaning toward annulling the sentence and calling for a retrial, describing the various terms under which this could happen. The article also mentioned that the police were revisiting some of the clues of the investigation including the American real estate developer, Ken Ross, who they claimed has information on who killed Doris (see Appendix 9).
Overall, it just seemed as if the article was published with the purpose of testing the possible verdict to see what kind of reaction it would provoke. After all, annulling the trial would be a temporary way to diplomatically save face internally in Nicaragua. One must remember that a correct ruling declaring me innocent suggests that the national police, the district attorney prosecutor, and the trial judge all made mistakes. And that is not the only pressure that the magistrates are faced with.
On June 1 an article called “Ruling on Volz Appeal Expected Soon” appeared in the English newspaper for ex-pats and tourists, “The Nica Times”. The author, Tim Rogers, speaks with the head of the three judge appellate panel presiding over my appeal, who again confirmed that “75% of the case file had been reviewed” and that they were “expecting to rule in the next few weeks,” (which, again, would have been the middle of June). He also said that they (the presiding magistrates) are in a tough situation and feel the pressure because if they rule in favor of Eric Volz there will be “a revolt on the part of Doris’ family and they (the judges) will be accused of being corrupt.” On the flip side he explained, “…that if they confirm the sentence, there will be a revolt by the international community.” The fact that the potential public reaction of their verdict is even mentioned is symbolic and will let those reading draw their own conclusions as to what that could mean in terms of due process.
After realizing that indeed the appeal was being affected by the pressure of public opinion, some Nicaraguan friends of mine in Managua decided that best way to help would be to try and relieve some of the pressure by spreading more awareness about the facts by proving my innocence. They organized a grass roots campaign called “Justicia por Eric Volz” (Justice for Eric Volz). They pooled money to finance 30 large banners that were hung at the busiest intersections in the cities of Managua, Masaya and Granada. They also handed out 15,000 fliers telling people to “get to know the truth” and visit the amigosdeeric.com web site.
So far, this civil campaign has been the single most impactful action yet in support of me in Nicaragua. The traffic on the Spanish web site greatly increased and Nicaraguans for the first time were able to read “The Declaration of Facts” prepared by my defense team, which speaks for itself. I started getting tons of letters from Nicaraguans apologizing for what has happened to me, on behalf of their system, offering help, and explaining how they originally thought I was guilty, but after learning more, clearly see that I was used as a scapegoat. Also, many people committed to spread around the web site and promote awareness of the truth. It was an awesome success and really helped to change more public opinion in my favor among the general public of cosmopolitan Nicaragua. But, once again, it would seem that positive energy surrounding me was upsetting someone somewhere, because, although the campaign banners were authorized with the proper municipal permits, several were prematurely taken down by the authorities. My friends, who paid for them, weren’t given an explanation why.
Perhaps more relevant is the fact that, despite it’s size and impact, the ”Justicia por Eric Volz” campaign was not reported in any of the national newspapers, radio, or TV news, with the exception of “La Trinchera de la Noticia” (see Appendix 10). The fact that none of the mainstream press reported on the campaign sent yet another strong message that they were not interested in endorsing anything that was in support of Eric V. That has been the general vibe that we have been confronted with down here since the beginning – the repression and denial by the formal sector of anything that contributes to my defense.
So, here we are in month #9 with no official news or update from the appeals court as to when they are going to make a move and people are starting to raise an eyebrow out of suspicion. The international news groups are heating up again because of what seems to be a frozen appeal, the lack of communication, and the way I’ve been treated in prison have become part of the story. Everyone is simply asking, “What is going on?”
The summary you have just read explains some of the context surrounding my appeal while sharing some of the subtle and not so subtle messages that have been communicated. But there is an additional factor that must be considered.
This other factor has to do with the most relevant detail of all. It has to do with the fact that I was a foreign investor and legal resident living in Nicaragua who lost virtually everything I had worked for as a result of the judicial process I was subjected to. It is also the reason my case has become very political.
At the heart of the matter is the problem that Nicaraguan entrepreneurs don’t have the investment capacity that the country needs to create jobs and reach stable growth, which is why foreign investment is needed. At the same time, foreign investment requires a stable business climate where the rule of law is clear, an impartial judicial system is established, and equal rights are guaranteed.
The problem for Nicaragua is that this case is known internationally. Many who are considering investing in Nicaragua are referencing my situation as a case study in analyzing the investment horizon and many have already decided not to bring their capital here as a result. So, this case is a big deal as thousands of people in Nicaragua and perhaps millions of people abroad are watching and anxiously awaiting the resolution.
What will the resolution be?
The answer would seem obvious. If politicians are worried about investment and upholding the law, then let me go! They have all the evidence to prove my innocence. But with a closer look it’s not so obvious because, as I mentioned before, declaring me innocent is acknowledging that serious mistakes were made, since no new evidence is allowed to be presented in the appeal (it is the same case file, just a new court).
In contrast, as long as I am officially stamped “guilty” the fact that I was an investor who suffered serious losses as a result of being railroaded, is not officially validated because, if one was guilty, losing assets would be part of the consequences of their actions. This second scenario is the most convenient for those trying to attract investment to Nicaragua since supporting Eric Volz and trying to sell Nicaragua as a good investment is essentially a conflict of interest (see Appendix 11).
So, the answer to the question of why the court hasn’t ruled on the appeal yet has to do with these reasons that the judges are feeling the pressure surrounding my case. They are also the reasons why this has become political and, by all definitions, I am a political prisoner. This is also the reasons why this has become political and, as a result, as with all court cases that become political here, it is about waiting for a politically convenient moment to announce the verdict, whatever and whenever that will be.
This is my reality, Free Eric V.
p.s. it is important that you all know that I’m taking a risk publishing this simple and brief summary update. I’m expecting there will be another reaction by the authorities in response to me spreading the truth. This letter will also, most likely, be cited and taken out of context by national press to further condemn me and sell more papers along the way. But as I mentioned in the beginning, I have no choice. If I remain silent, the injustice becomes forgotten and goes unnoticed. And that my friends, is not going to happen!
Disclosure to close the Update:
Eric wrote this letter at the beginning of July. Since then the prison guards have allowed him two 30 minute visits with his attorneys. There are press reports that the appeals court will be announcing their verdict in the next month. Our hope is that this will be true. In the meantime, Eric is living on the edge. If people only knew the environment in which he produced this letter it would blow your mind. His daily reality is literally something most of us have read in books. He is fully aware of the love and support that has flourished around the world on his behalf and sends his appreciation every time we talk to him.
Only two news events pre-trial that cannot be classified as anti-Eric:
The weekly news program called “Esta Semana” by Carlos Fernando Chamorro covered the story a couple of weeks before the trial. It was the first time any of the inconsistencies in the accusation against me were reported. The host, Camilo de Castro, did a thorough investigation. In reality, the 15 minute segment was only able to scratch the surface and, although it raised important questions, the response I got from most people who saw it was that it simply left them “feeling murky about the whole thing.”
The first district judge that presided over my case, Peter Palma (upon receiving the results that none of the physical evidence linked me to the crime scene), ruled that due to lack of evidence, that my imprisonment was unfair and released me on house arrest. His decision caused a strong reaction by the public who had already been fooled by the local press into believing I was the murderer. The headlines read, “Dollarized Crime,” suggesting that I had paid a bribe for him to release me on house arrest. Doris’ mother, the district attorney, and the Rivas Police were repeatedly interviewed as they denounced the judge. It caused such a scene that Judge Palma’s decision was actually taken to the Supreme Corte of Justice (Nicaraguan Supreme Court) and a committee was formed to investigate. The district attorney prosecutor and Judge Palma himself were called to appear in front of the committee and a hearing was held. After several weeks, the Supreme Court ruled that Judge Palma had indeed, “acted correctly,” and that, “the case against Eric Volz has serious holes and deficiencies.” This verdict by the Supreme Court received a quick clip on the nightly news and a small corner article in the newspaper, La Prensa. It was another sign that the media was out to condemn me, but the news was so relevant that they had to report on it.
The fact that the Supreme Court has reviewed the case file and is on public record declaring that there are “serious holes and deficiencies” in the district attorney’s case against me is something that has not been reported in any international news story to date. I have mentioned this event in every interview and still believe it be one of the most important indicators of the truth. (El Nuevo Diario, February 7, 2007, “Fijan juicio por atroz crimen de Doris Ivania”)
Early on when the first newspaper articles started to come out and we saw how biased they were, we thought that the reporters must not have had all the facts. So my defense team took action and sent copies of the official case file to the newspaper editors as well as organized a radio/TV press conference. They clearly presented my defense alibi and pointed out the inconsistencies in the prosecutor’s charges against me. Despite our efforts, the prejudiced reporting continued. (do a key word search in the Archives of El Nuevo Diario and La Prensa newspapers for the actual articles)
When Doris’ mother declared that I had offered her a million dollars to drop the charges, my mom had to fight for a week to get someone in Nicaragua to publish her response to this false accusation. When they finally did, it ran in a thin column on the inside fold of one of the back pages, compared to the half page article that had been allocated to Doris’ mother. At one point it got so bad that we had no choice but to purchase ad space in both papers to offer a rebuttal to the ridiculous allegations that were being made. Regardless of our attempts, the papers continued to sell the story of a jealous maniac boyfriend who murdered and raped out of passion, then tried to utilize his “fortune and status” as a gringo, with support from the U.S. Embassy, to try and buy his way out of the law, which of course is not true.
At one point, an article even suggested that I was involved in money laundering and was being investigated for falsifying passports, both of which are, again, total nonsense and serve as an example of how unprofessional some of the journalism is in Nicaragua.
Not one national journalist, with the exception of Camilo de Castro from “Esta Semana” solicited an interview with me before the trial, and although all the newspaper editors knew my work with EP Magazine, they selectively chose not to bring that into the story. They clearly didn’t want people to know who I was or hear my side of the story.
El Nuevo Diario is Nicaragua’s second largest newspaper and is responsible for the majority of the propaganda against me since my arrest. Approximately 80% of the articles published nationally have been in this paper. Nearly 90% of these are articles were written by the same author, Lesber Quintero from Rivas.
The irony of this is that my family and I have actually spent a lot of time and energy keeping the corporate media frenzy as low a profile as possible.
Many of the major media groups that have covered this story outside of Nicaragua were knocking on our door pre-trial. They wanted to come to Nicaragua and do interviews. They wanted to come investigate and film me in prison. We requested that they stand down, explaining that we didn’t want to “sauce up” the already existent tension with more press. We put our faith in the Nicaraguan judicial process, believing the court would consider the facts, not public opinion.
Despite our efforts, the local press has accused us of being the ones responsible for the international media coverage, and, subsequently Nicaragua getting a “bad image.” Even the Vice President of Nicaragua, Jamie Morales Carazo, is on record saying that, “Eric’s family has done a good job manipulating the international press” (“Morales Carazo refuta al Washington Post” – El Nuevo Diario, May 11, 2007). This is a very important article because he is the highest political figure to publicly comment on the case.
Commissioner Emilio Reyes, of the Investigative unit of the Rivas Police, is the official who ordered my arrest. To justify his action he not only lied to his fellow policeman, but to Doris’ mother as well, saying that I had confessed to the murder of Doris but was given orders by the U.S. Embassy not to sign the declaration. There is, of course, no declaration (confession)! (source: HOY tabloid, February, 17, 2007, entitled: “Incidente Violent”
One of the most influential articles published convincing the public that I was guilty was when Doris’ mother did an interview with El Nuevo Diario claiming that she had a recording of a telephone call with commissioner Reyes in which he claims that “I had confessed to the murder but refused to sign a declaration.”
All of these claims are false. In the interviews I was able to do nationally, my questions to the public were;
If Doris’ mother had a recording why didn’t she present it in court?
If the policeman said there is a declaration, where is it?, and;
Why didn’t Commissioner Reyes testify in court if I confessed to him? (he was the arresting officer, but he didn’t even show his face during the trial)
When I raised these questions Doris’ mother obviously realized she was lied to by the police and that is why she demanded, in the “Hoy” article, for the police to present the declaration.
The penitentiary has a system in which all prisoners are categorized into one of four security regiments. Anytime a prisoner is taken outside the compound walls for a visit to the courthouse or hospital, by law they are to be cuffed. But within the prison, cuffs are only used on prisoners that are in a punishment regiment. These are dangerous and problematic inmates that are kept in confinement galleries, locked in their cells at all times. Out of the population of 2,600 prisoners, I was the only one not on a punishment regiment that was being cuffed. I have no misconduct reports and despite several formal complaints, have never been offered an explanation by the guards about why I was being cuffed.
It was simply a means of applying pressure and attempting to demoralize me, not to mention dangerous because if some action pops off your ability to defend yourself is limited (all the prisoners were talking about the way I was being treated). The cuffs went on for two and a half months.
The U.S. Embassy was finally able to get me a meeting with the warden in which I expressed that I have a right to an explanation for the cuffs. I asked why they started cuffing me the day my interviews were published. The warden simply told the captain of internal orders, “no more cuffs for Eric.” No explanation was ever given.
I haven’t seen my attorneys in four months. The way in which the authorities have isolated me from my defense attorney is not only a grave violation of the law, but also, as they have intended, has greatly limited my legal mobility to pressure the speed of the appeal process. Formal complaints have been issued and we are hoping to get this straightened out.
I thought this was symbolic because basically the police were admitting they weren’t satisfied with those who they had accused initially. Why else continue the investigation?
Unfortunately, the reality is another. As long as someone is in jail for Doris’ murder the case is closed. It was simply a response that was forced as a result of my national interviews that pointed out how unprofessional their investigation was. The police’s “continued investigation” has not been mentioned since.
This publication is the only media outlet that has provided consistent and thorough coverage of this case. The coverage has been well-researched and documented without all the sensational headlines of the other papers or TV coverage.Xavier Reyes Alba, 51 yrs. old, Chief Editor and partner of Trinchera de la Noticia, since September 1999; Editor-Owner of the news radio talk program "60 Minutos con Xavier Reyes Alba" (Radio El Pensamiento, Managua, founded, November 1991).Xavier began to work in the radio journalism field when he was 15 - an internship with his oldest brother Alan Tefel Alba, a journalist, too.He was the deputy editor of Barricada, the official newspaper of the Sandinistas during the 80`s, from July 1979 until Feb. 1987. He then joined the Radio Sandino Press Staff as the Chief Editor of the News Department (1987-1988).1988-1990- Deputy Director of the Sandinista Television System.1990- 2002 - Teacher at the Communication Department at UCA, (Universidad Centroamericana, Managua).1991-2007 - Partner of JART Comunicaciones, S.A., a family business (Communications Consultant).Xavier has also served as a correspondent for several magazines, Press Agencies, and has worked as the Director of Public Relations of the Electoral Supreme Council in Nicaragua.
Many people I know and some who I consider friends who are investing or doing business in Nicaragua (both Nationals and ex-pats) know in their heart that I am innocent, but have convinced themselves that I’m guilty for the sake of business. There are a few who even adopted a response that, “Eric could be innocent, but he didn’t do a good job defending himself in trial.”
Supporters have sent me letters including the responses of investment consultants and real estate developers when asked what they think about the Volz case. Let’s just say I have learned who my true friends are and who are not.
Permission to print is granted by Eric Volz. Any unauthorized use or duplication of this material is prohibited unless permission is granted by the copyright owner.
Friends of Eric Volz Web Site
Saturday, August 4, 2007
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Friday, July 13, 2007
"Was this justice real?" - Kevin Vaughan, The Rocky Mountain News
Lawyers for Timothy Lee Masters, convicted of the 1987 stabbing death of Peggy Lee Hettrick, continue to press for a new trial, claiming alleged gross irregularities by prosecutors.Click here to read the rest of Vaughan's article which includes a timeline, an outline of the skimpy case presented against Masters, additional details on the alleged prosecutorial misconduct and more.
A fight to win a new trial for a man convicted in one of the city's most notorious killings has spawned allegations that evidence was lost and destroyed and assertions that police officers and prosecutors colluded to hide information from defense attorneys.
The controversy revolves around the 1999 conviction of Timothy Lee Masters in the murder of Peggy Lee Hettrick, who was stabbed to death in 1987 as she walked home on a moonlit night in south Fort Collins. Masters was 15 at the time, and though he was a prime focus of the investigation from its first hours, it took detectives more than a decade to assemble a circumstantial case against him and file charges.
And when they took the case to a jury, they did not have a single piece of physical evidence tying him to the killing - no murder weapon, no blood, no hair, no fingerprints, no DNA. What they had was circumstantial evidence - he owned knives like the one that killed her, he talked about the difficulty of stabbing someone and he produced hundreds of pages of writings, drawings and doodles, many of them containing disturbing images.
After the trial, one of the officers who helped build the case against him came to believe that she might have sent an innocent man to prison and began work to get Masters a new trial. That effort has led to a flurry of court filings by attorneys working for Masters, laying out a series of allegations:
• That prosecutors and police deliberately tried to destroy evidence in 2006 so that it would be useless for highly specialized DNA testing.
• That investigators ignored evidence that a Fort Collins doctor, arrested in a sexual exploitation case, could be a potential suspect in Hettrick's death and "burned" all the evidence in that case.
• That prosecutors at Masters' trial committed professional misconduct by failing to disclose information about the doctor to the defense.
• That prosecutors and police lost evidence - including two hairs found at the crime scene and a bracelet Hettrick was wearing when she was killed.
"Doing time for no crime" - Arthur Caromona, Los Angeles Times
ONE WEEK after my 16th birthday, I was arrested and charged with crimes I did not commit. I remained behind bars in a life unsuitable for any innocent person. After I served nearly three years of a 17-year sentence, the real facts of my case began to emerge and a judge let me go free. My life, however, will never be the same, and I am determined to change the laws that make it so easy for innocent people to be convicted.
On Feb. 12, 1998, I decided to visit a friend. While I was walking down a residential street, a Costa Mesa police officer stopped me at gunpoint. I was handcuffed and surrounded by other police officers with guns drawn. One officer forced a baseball cap onto my head and made me stand on the curb. I did not know it at the time, but witnesses from a robbery had been brought to identify me in what is known as an "in-field show-up," a procedure that is highly likely to produce mistaken identifications. I was arrested in connection with 13 strong-arm robberies.
My mother was able to gather evidence proving that her 15-year-old son was in school during 11 of the robberies. But we had no evidence to prove that, at 2 a.m. on a school night, I was home asleep while someone robbed a Denny's restaurant, and we had no proof that I was home baby-sitting my 11-year-old sister during the time a juice bar in another city was being robbed.
The getaway driver, a parolee with a long criminal record, admitted being involved in the robberies. He first told police he did not know me and that I was not involved. Then the Orange County district attorney offered him a sentence of two years if he would say I was. He took the plea bargain and his story changed; he was freed from prison before I was.
The court found me guilty of two strong-arm robberies, and I was facing 35 years for crimes I took no part in. The judge sentenced me to 12 years in state prison. I was 16, with no criminal record. I would have been eligible for parole in nine years, with two strikes to my name, one strike away from a life term.
Two and a half years later, just before my hearing on getting a new trial based on a writ of habeas corpus, the Orange County district attorney offered me a deal, and after three years of suffering beatings, threats and degradation in a series of juvenile and state prisons, I accepted it. I signed a "stipulation" — a piece of paper stating that I would not sue any city, county or state prosecutors. Orange County Superior Court Judge Everett Dickey ordered me released and my felonies vacated.
Although I could finally go home, I could not go back to my old life. While I was behind bars, my high school class graduated without me. I was no longer the fun-loving teenager I once was. The criminal justice system took my innocence from me. I have not received any compensation, or even an apology. And the two felonies remain on my record, despite the judge's order and the intervention last year of then-Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer.
Now, I am fighting to prevent wrongful convictions and to help innocent people still in prison. I am also supporting a series of state bills that would make it harder for what happened to me to happen to other people. I have traveled to Sacramento in the last two years to urge the Legislature to pass legislation that would help prevent wrongful convictions. Two of these bills passed last year, only to be vetoed by the governor. This year, three bills are being considered.
Senate Bill 756, sponsored by Mark Ridley-Thomas (D-Los Angeles), would require the state Department of Justice to develop new guidelines for eyewitness identification procedures. For example, guidelines in other states limit the use of in-field show-ups like the one that led to my wrongful conviction.
Senate Bill 511, sponsored by Elaine Alquist (D-Santa Clara), would require recording of the entire interrogation, including the Miranda warning, in cases of violent felonies. Electronic recording of interrogations would not only help end false confessions but also discourage police detectives from lying during interrogations — as they did in my case by claiming to have videotaped evidence of me.
Senate Bill 609, sponsored by Majority Leader Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles), would prevent convictions based on uncorroborated testimony by jailhouse snitches.
The Legislature should pass all three bills, and the governor should sign them. These reforms are urgently needed to prevent wrongful and unjust incarcerations.
Prison is no place for an innocent man, let alone an innocent kid.
Thursday, July 12, 2007
- Letter to the Editor – LA Times – June 26, 2006, Paul A. Logli [former] President, National District Attorneys Association & State’s Attorney, Winnebago County, IL
DNA Proves Halsey Innocent Of 1985 Murder, Sex Assault - North County Gazette
Byron Halsey, who narrowly escaped the death penalty when he was convicted in 1988 of the brutal sexual assault and murders of two young children in New Jersey, was fully exonerated earlier this week based on DNA evidence that proves his innocence. Halsey’s conviction was vacated on May 15, and at a hearing Monday the Union County District Attorney’s Office dismissed pending indictments against Halsey because he is innocent. Halsey is the 205th person nationwide – and the fifth in New Jersey – exonerated based on DNA evidence, according to the Innocence Project, which represents Halsey.
“Byron Halsey has waited 22 years for this day. For 22 years, he has waited to walk into court and have prosecutors and the judge acknowledge what he always knew but what nobody would believe – that he is innocent,” said Vanessa Potkin, staff attorney at the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University. “Byron can now begin the long, slow, difficult process of rebuilding his life. We hope the community will continue to embrace and support him, and we hope the state compensates him promptly and appropriately for the unimaginable ordeal he has endured.”
Halsey’s conviction was overturned in May after DNA testing on several key pieces of evidence used to convict Halsey actually indicated the guilt of another man, Cliff Hall, who is already in prison for several other sex crimes in New Jersey and who testified against Halsey during his trial. In March 1988, Halsey was convicted of several charges stemming from the November 1985 murders of a seven-year-old girl and an eight-year-old boy he was raising with his girlfriend; Hall, who lived next door to the family, had dropped Halsey off across town and then returned home on the night the children were brutally killed.
DNA testing over the last 16 months links every critical piece of physical evidence from the crime to Cliff Hall, not Byron Halsey, the Innocence Project said. The District Attorney’s office consented to the DNA testing, which was conducted in state labs and at Orchid Cellmark, one of the nation’s leading private labs, which provided some of the testing pro bono. The physical evidence that was subjected to DNA testing includes semen on the seven-year-old girl’s underwear, semen elsewhere at the crime scene and a cigarette butt at the crime scene. The cigarette butt was central in the initial police investigation of the crimes, and the semen was linked to Halsey (through blood typing, since DNA testing was not available) and used to convict him. DNA testing on both semen samples and the cigarette butt matches Cliff Hall, according to papers filed jointly by the Innocence Project and the Union County District Attorney’s Office. Hall has now been charged with the crimes for which Halsey was wrongfully convicted.
From his behavior and other evidence, police suspected Cliff Hall from the beginning. But as the lengthy interrogation of Halsey progressed, leading to a supposed confession, police stopped investigating Hall. The supposed confession was the result of 30 hours of interrogation over a 40-hour period of time during which Halsey (who has a sixth-grade education and severe learning disabilities) had little sleep. Even the detective handling the interrogation characterized Halsey’s statements as “gibberish.” On every key fact of the crimes, Halsey gave incorrect answers during the interrogation and had to guess several times before giving police accurate answers (on everything from the location of the bodies to how they were killed). Halsey “confessed” to things that DNA now proves did not happen.
Exonerated by DNA tests, cleared of 2 child murders - Janet Frankston Lorin, Associated Press
All charges against a man who served 22 years in prison for the murder and rape of two children were dropped yesterday after prosecutors cited DNA testing they said links another man to the crime.
Prosecutor Theodore J. Romankow declined to pursue charges after "careful re-evaluation of the case" against Byron Halsey.
Halsey, 46, was released from prison May 15 after a judge threw out his convictions. DNA testing, not available when he was convicted, linked a neighbor to the crime. Until yesterday, however, Halsey legally still faced charges of aggravated sexual assault, aggravated manslaughter, felony murder, child abuse, and possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose.
Prosecutors yesterday recommended that Superior Court Judge Stuart L. Peim drop all charges.
Halsey thanked prosecutors for "acknowledging the truth." Halsey, whose electronic ankle bracelet was removed yesterday, also thanked his grandmother, who stood behind him in a crowd of supporters.
Halsey confessed after 30 hours of interrogation in a 40-hour span, said Barry Scheck, who is codirector of the Innocence Project.
"As a result, the only evidence against Byron Halsey is his uncorroborated confession, significant portions of which have been refuted by DNA evidence," said prosecutor Albert Cernadas Jr.
Cernadas said he could not say "with certainty" whether Halsey is innocent, but the state could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Halsey was guilty. "We just didn't have sufficient evidence," Cernadas said.
Halsey is the 205th person nationwide exonerated and the fifth in New Jersey through DNA evidence, Ferrero said.
"I'm going to church, going to work, pay my bills," said Halsey, who thanked God for his freedom.
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
Armed with little more than graphic but unrelated pictures drawn by the then 15 year old Masters and a willingness to withhold evidence and commit perjury, Gilmore and Blair convinced a jury that “no one else” but Masters could have been the murderer. Masters conviction, upheld by the Colorado Appellate Court and Supreme Court when other evidentiary rules and the introduction of character evidence were reviewed and found to be sound, is currently under post-conviction review which began in 2003 based on the allegations of prosecutorial misconduct.
Greg Campbell writes:
When a jury unanimously found Timothy Masters guilty in 1999 of murdering a 36-year-old woman and mutilating her dead body, Fort Collins closed the only murder case on its books that had remained frustratingly unsolved for more than a decade.Click here to read more from the Fort Collins weekly including additional information on the people involved in the nifonging of Masters and a preview of what's ahead in Master's quest for a new trial.
But the case may not stay closed for long. Although his conviction has been upheld by both the Court of Appeals and the Colorado Supreme Court, and he’s currently serving a life sentence, Masters is making a compelling case for a new trial, arguing not only that his previous attorneys were incompetent in defending him, but that the prosecution withheld critical information that would have either exonerated him or cast doubt on him as a viable suspect.
The allegation is a serious one: if a prosecutor is found to have intentionally withheld relevant or exculpatory information from the defense or the jury, he or she can be disbarred by the state Supreme Court and possibly face criminal charges.
In Masters’ case, two of the prosecutors are now Eighth Judicial District judges: Terrence Gilmore and Jolene Blair.
But they are hardly the only ones who would face questions of impropriety should this old and presumably solved murder once again go before a jury—if Masters is found to have been sent to jail because prosecutors and police investigators improperly withheld information from the court, it would be an indictment of some of the most well-known names in local law enforcement and politics. If his murder conviction is actually overturned, which his new defense team indicates in dozens of recently filed motions is not only possible but likely, it will be a major crack in the foundation of Larimer County’s justice system.
“If there’s a new trial because there’s evidence that is exculpatory, evidence of an alternative suspect, that evidence clearly could change the course of the trial in terms of reasonable doubt that he’s not guilty of what he’s accused of,” says Fort Collins attorney Andy Gavaldon, who is not involved in the case. “Clearly this is information that should have been disclosed the first time, and if it is of the type and nature that’s being described in the (recent court) filings it would have had a tremendous effect on the first verdict.”
At the very least, it’s clear that if Masters is granted a new trial, he’s not the only one who will be defending himself.
What’s not in dispute is that 36-year-old Fort Collins resident Peggy Hettrick was stabbed once in the back sometime in the early morning hours on Feb. 11, 1987. The blow was forceful enough that it broke a rib, and the blade lacerated her left lung and left pulmonary artery. She bled to death within minutes.
Her body was found later that morning in a field off of Landings Drive in south Fort Collins by a bicyclist. On the curb was a large blood pool, and a bloody drag trail led more than 100 feet to Hettrick’s body, which was positioned on her back with her hands stretched over her head. Her jeans and underwear were pushed down and bunched around her knees, her shirt and bra pushed up over her breasts. Police would soon discover that her left nipple and skin around her vagina had been excised with a very sharp instrument.
It didn’t take long for police to establish a timeline of Hettrick’s activities shortly before her death. Police believe she finished work at clothing retailer The Fashion Bar, which was then located in The Square on College Avenue, around 9 p.m. She spent much of the night wandering from place to place looking for her roommate, who had the keys to their shared apartment, ending up after midnight at the Prime Minister bar and restaurant (located where The Olive Garden restaurant is today on South College Avenue). There, she met and had drinks with her sometimes-boyfriend Matt Zoellner, who was there to meet another woman. Zoellner left Hettrick at the bar to sit with his date. Around 1 a.m. he offered Hettrick a ride home; she initially accepted, but Zoellner told police that she left the bar alone.
That was the last time she was known to be seen alive.
Within hours of the discovery of Hettrick’s body, Tim Masters quickly became the prime suspect in her murder. Masters lived with his father in a trailer that overlooked the field, and during a canvassing of the neighborhood, police learned from Masters’ father that the boy had veered from his normal path on his way across the field to catch his school bus. His father told police that it seemed Masters had spent a moment or two looking at something before hurrying on his way.
Detective Francis Gonzales—who is now a sergeant assigned to the downtown District One police substation—found Masters at school. Masters told Gonzales he’d seen Hettrick’s body, but assumed it was a mannequin put in the field by friends trying to trick him. Indeed, even the bicyclist who reported the body told police that he too thought it was a mannequin, according to court documents. But because Masters didn’t report the body to police—and because he’d told Gonzales that what he’d seen had been “bothering” him—investigators became suspicious and asked to search Masters’ bedroom. He agreed.
What they found quickly placed the young man at the top of their list of suspects—in Masters’ bedroom, they found six survival-style knives made popular a few years earlier by the film First Blood starring Sylvester Stallone. In the hollow hilt of one knife, they found a sharp scalpel.
But it was in a suitcase where they found what would become the most damning of the prosecution’s evidence a decade later, when he was put on trial for Hettrick’s murder: hundreds of extremely violent drawings and stories. Many of the pictures showed stabbings with knives and swords, and much of the violence was directed at women. A sketch that would be particularly damning showed a figure that had been shot with arrows being dragged by another figure in the same manner police believe Hettrick’s killer dragged his victim.
In Masters’ school backpack, officers found a map of the crime scene with an X marking the location of Hettrick’s body. Masters told police he drew it when telling a classmate of what he’d seen that morning.
While Masters’ volume of drawings raised questions and suspicions, they did not trigger his arrest—at least not yet—because the bedroom and its contents were equally notable for what officers did not find. Officers found no blood and no body parts anywhere in the house. There was no fiber, hair, skin or other physical evidence that linked Masters to Hettrick. The knives would be tested at the Colorado Bureau of Investigation and found to have no trace of the victim’s blood or DNA.
And despite Masters’ apparent fascination with violent death, as his pictures demonstrated, the suspect himself raised some doubts. At the time of the murder, he stood 5 feet 10 inches tall and yet weighted just 115 pounds, roughly the same weight as the victim. The theory that would evolve over the next several years was that this waif of a teen, who was so skinny that classmates called him “Toothpick,” laid in wait for the victim and ambushed her in a blitz-style attack while she stood or walked near the curb smoking a cigarette, stabbing her with enough force to break a rib. He then dragged her dead weight 103 feet into the field and, on a moonless night in a part of Fort Collins that did not have street lights at the time, used a scalpel to excise body parts he’d never seen before except in pornographic magazines, which were also found in his bedroom. He committed this crime without leaving any physical evidence on the body or at the scene, and without contaminating his clothing, body or property with the victim’s blood or DNA.
For his part, Masters steadfastly denied murdering Hettrick in several interviews conducted by Gonzales; by Sgt. Ray Martinez, who would later serve three terms as mayor of Fort Collins; and by Detective Jim Broderick, who is today a lieutenant with the police department’s Professional Standards Unit.
In 1992, Fort Collins police detectives Linda Wheeler-Holloway and Jim Broderick arrived in Philadelphia with an arrest warrant for Tim Masters. The two had been reviewing evidence and re-interviewing witnesses when one of Masters’ classmates mentioned that Masters told him Hettrick’s killer had removed some of her body parts, a detail that was intentionally withheld from the public. By then, Masters was in the U.S. Navy and stationed in Philadelphia; Wheeler-Holloway and Broderick intended to arrest him and return him to Fort Collins to face charges in Hettrick’s murder.
But Masters had a good reason to know about the body mutilation—one of his classmates had been in the police department’s Explorer Scout program, in which young men and women learn about law enforcement through hands-on experience, and she had helped search the crime scene. She later told classmates, including Masters, that they were told scour the field for a “nipple.”
The visit to Philadelphia did not go as the detectives planned. Wheeler-Holloway and Broderick interviewed Masters for two days in what was called a “tag-team” interrogation in court documents. The interviews were witnessed by members of Naval Intelligence and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. According to court records, Wheeler-Holloway later wrote in a police report, “The FBI agents here believe Tim Masters is innocent and so do I.”
The detectives returned to Fort Collins without executing the arrest warrant.
Broderick was less convinced of Masters’ innocence, and he sought the opinion of San Diego forensic psychiatrist Dr. Reid Meloy, who was given details of the case along with more than 2,000 of Masters’ drawings and stories in order to see if there was a relationship between Masters and the murder. Meloy’s resulting report remains the source of much controversy, and constitutes the only new evidence developed since the crime occurred. The conclusions he drew after reviewing the artwork and the stories were the basis for Masters’ arrest in 1998.
Although Meloy was barred from giving his opinion about whether or not he believed Masters’ pictures and stories implicated him in Hettrick’s murder, Meloy drew a very clear correlation between the circumstances of her death and Masters’ artwork. He testified about the characteristics of a sexual homicide and went into detail about how Masters’ productions could be considered a “fantasy rehearsal” for such a homicide. He showed how specific pictures could be interpreted to reflect the crime—several showed “blitz attacks,” depicted stabbings which Meloy interpreted as sexual in nature and depicted women as murder victims.
Prosecutors argued that the murder was a “displaced matricide” in which Hettrick was killed as a surrogate for Masters’ mother, Margaret, who died of an illness one day short of four years before the murder occurred. Prosecutors said Hettrick looked like Masters’ mother, which is why she was targeted (there are similarities between the women, but Masters’ mother had brown hair while Hettrick had red hair, according to information from a color photo of Margaret Masters’ driver’s license filed with the court).
More than 1,000 pages of Masters’ pictures and stories were entered into evidence and it’s not hard to imagine that, combined with Meloy’s testimony, they had quite an impact on the jury. One picture seems to show a knife stabbing a vagina; in another, a woman is being threatened with a sword by a figure holding a decapitated head behind his back.
“The defendant’s writings and drawings are graphic and often repulsive,” wrote the Colorado Supreme Court in its motion upholding Masters’ murder conviction. “They indicate defendant was deeply fascinated with death, particularly with death by stabbing or slicing.”
But the same opinion made an argument Masters’ original defense team had tried to make: If his pictures and stories were in fact a form of “fantasy rehearsal” for a sexual homicide then why, in all of his voluminous productions, wasn’t there a depiction of the crime as it happened?
“There is not a single image or passage that duplicates the crime,” the opinion continues. “There is not a picture of or story about a woman being stabbed in the back or having her nipple excised.”
Nevertheless, the prosecution, which included then-assistant district attorneys Terrence Gilmore and Jolene Blair—who have both since been appointed as judges in the Eighth Judicial District—hammered home the relevance of Masters’ disturbing artwork as evidence of his guilt.
“The evidence is there,” Gilmore said in his closing remarks. “Sometimes it’s hard to find. Sometimes you have to do a little thinking as to how the defendant could draw something like that unless he knew how it happened. Please look and read, study, dig into the paper bags (of evidence). The evidence is there.”
Prosecutors concluded that “no one else” but Tim Masters could have killed Peggy Hettrick.
With their unanimous verdict of guilt, the jury apparently had little trouble agreeing with him.
Masters’ current bid for a new trial hinges on the belief that not only could someone else have committed the murder, but that the jury would have agreed if only they’d been given information by the prosecution about other people who defense lawyers believe should have been considered as suspects in Hettrick’s death. One of them was a confessed murderer who killed two women the same year Hettrick was murdered by stabbing them in the back; another confessed specifically to killing Hettrick.
While either of these individuals may have cast doubt on Masters’ guilt in the eyes of the jury, none offered as compelling—or complicated—a case as that of Dr. Richard Hammond, a prominent Fort Collins eye surgeon who was arrested in 1995 for surreptitiously videotaping girls and women in his guest bathroom. Hammond had set up his video equipment to film extreme close-ups of his victims’ genitals, and when police searched his house, they found hundreds of videotapes labeled with victims’ names.
Some of the victims were family members of those in the District Attorney’s office, creating a conflict of interest that required the office to disqualify itself from prosecuting the crime. However, the Hammond case never got to the prosecution stage.
After his arrest, Hammond was placed on a 72-hour mental health hold but shortly after he was released from protective custody, he checked into a Denver hotel and committed suicide.
According to court documents, several police detectives believe Hammond should have been thoroughly investigated for Hettrick’s murder. Not only did he have an obvious morbid fascination with female genitalia, he also had the medical skill and biological knowledge to perform the precise and delicate excisions that were performed on Hettrick’s body. Finally, Hammond’s home—like Masters’—overlooked the field where Hettrick’s body was discovered.
But rather than expand their investigation of Hammond, police instead closed the case after his suicide—in fact, investigators didn’t even look at all the videotapes to see if Hettrick appeared on one. Instead, they burned the evidence to spare Hammond’s victims—including family members of those in the DA’s office—further embarrassment and humiliation.
The defense knew nothing of this investigation, or that some members of the police department thought Hammond should have been investigated as a suspect in Hettrick’s murder.
“The evidence appears extremely strong and incontrovertible that we weren’t given the information we needed,” says Erik Fischer, who along with Nathan Chambers—who also served on Oklahoma City bomber Tim McVeigh’s defense team—represented Masters during his trial and appeals. “We were hampered by their failure to overturn exculpatory evidence.”
Fischer adds that he believes Gilmore “perjured himself” during Masters’ trial when he told the jury that law enforcement had cleared all other suspects in Hettrick’s murder.
“I believe … we should have gotten Hammond as an alternate suspect,” he says. “I think Tim would have walked in 10 minutes.”
But Stuart Van Meveren, the district attorney at the time of Masters’ trial, says it was up to the judgment of investigators and prosecutors to decide what information to turn over to the defense.
“Those decisions were left to the investigating agency,” he says, “and if they knew about (the cases), they obviously thought they weren’t significant.”
He says he doesn’t believe Gilmore or Blair did anything wrong.
“They’re both outstanding prosecutors and very ethical individuals,” he says, “and that’s evident in that they both were appointed to the bench.”
Other observers aren’t as certain. Daniel Coyne, an associate professor of clinical law at the Chicago-Kent College of Law, says that it’s not up to the prosecution to decide what is relevant for the defense.
“The case law is really clear that that’s not the prosecutor’s right to make that determination,” he says. “If it’s useful to the defendant, then a prudent prosecutor will turn over (the evidence) or make it available for inspection.
“If there was a decision to withhold information,” Coyne continues, “and the response as to why the information was withheld was that, ‘we didn’t determine it to be important,’ that may call into question the competency of the people who made that decision.”
It could also call into question their motives, says Richard Moran, a professor of sociology and criminology at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. Moran recently completed a study of wrongful convictions in death penalty cases. He found that since the death penalty was reinstituted in the late 1970s, 81 of 123 exonerations were the result of what he calls “illegal prosecutions.”
“When there is a wrongful conviction, if that’s what the court ends up deciding, they’re not usually the result of good faith efforts,” he says, “but the result of a criminal or malicious act committed by one of the members of the court, either the police, the prosecutors or sometimes the judges. …
“You put a guy in jail for life because you’re convinced that he did it,” Moran continues. “You don’t want to share evidence that he might not have done it with the defense because you think he’s going to walk, so you misbehave so that he gets convicted. It’s the notion of framing; you can frame a guilty man, though you can also frame an innocent one. Most prosecutors who do this think that they are furthering justice by nailing the guy who they believe committed the crime. In terms of prosecutors you also have their won/lost records, so you have personal interest there, but the real outrageous notion is that people who are appointed by the court to uphold the law broke it to get convictions, and that’s not how it’s supposed to work.”
Gavaldon, the Fort Collins attorney, says it’s up to the courts to decide whether information in the Masters case was improperly withheld—“That’s why we have retrials,” he says—but he agrees with Moran’s sentiments.
“The criminal justice system is not an arena for hide and seek,” Gavaldon says. “What ensures that justice is served is that there is full disclosure on both sides, of all the evidence, so that those issues are decided by a jury on something as serious as a life sentence. That cannot happen when one side is hiding what could be evidence that someone did this other than this young man.”
It remains to be seen if Masters will get a new trial, but defense attorneys Maria Liu and David Wymore are gaining momentum in that direction since beginning in 2003 a so-called 35 (c) proceeding, which seeks a post-conviction review of the trial. This is different than the appeals in which matters of evidentiary rules and the introduction of character evidence were reviewed and found to be sound; the hearings now being prepared for will determine if Masters deserves a new trial based on the allegations of prosecutorial misconduct and defense inadequacy.
Since 2003, his attorneys have succeeded in having the entire Eighth Judicial District removed from the case. Likewise, the Larimer County District Attorney’s Office has turned the case over to special prosecutors from Adams County after the defense filed a motion in January alleging a conflict of interest. Although a hearing on whether or not to grant a new trial will be held in Fort Collins, the case is now in the hands of the special prosecutors and a retired judge under special contract to hear motions in the case.
Recent allegations point to why the defense doesn’t want the locals involved in the case any further—in court documents filed in January, Masters’ lawyers claim that evidence from the victim was illegally sent by the District Attorney’s office to the CBI lab in Denver where they were subjected to destructive DNA testing. Masters had been granted a motion allowing his own DNA testing to look for evidence that someone else killed Hettrick, but before the evidence was turned over, the DA’s office sent the material to the lab for its own testing. This, Masters’ lawyers argue, amounts to theft and destruction of evidence.
“On or about November 20, 2006, the district attorney went to the courthouse and illegally took a number of trial exhibits from the court files for the purpose of trying (to) destroy or minimize any exculpatory evidence which might be obtained by the defense DNA testing scheduled to occur in the immediate future,” they wrote in a motion seeking to disqualify the DA’s office from the case. “The district attorney then took the evidence to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation where … CBI agents, at the direction of the district attorney, undertook to destroy any exculpatory DNA evidence by performing ‘procedures’ which they knew would be likely to have that effect.
“The district attorney did all of this without a single piece of paper being generated, contrary to all normal procedures of law enforcement and judicial agencies. … The district attorney thus demonstrated that it is infinitely more important to the district attorney to preserve the conviction of Tim Masters than it is to obey the rule of law, court orders, the Constitutions or its ethical obligations.”
The DNA evidence is crucial to the defense’s contention that Masters deserves a new trial. In an affidavit filed with the court, forensic investigator Barie Goetz—who worked for the CBI from 1981 to 2004 and is now employed by Masters’ defense team—outlined an entirely new scenario explaining Hettrick’s death that he believes can be proven by DNA. He believes the evidence will show that Hettrick was not murdered or mutilated where her body was found, but stabbed in the back while seated in a car. He says the evidence will also show that her mutilations were surgical in nature and occurred at “a suitably equipped location other than the scene at Landings” and that two people carried her body into the field and left in a vehicle.
If any of this turns out to be true, or even possible in the minds of jurors, it could lead to Masters’ acquittal. And an overturned murder conviction could wreak havoc in the Eighth Judicial District and those who tried the case the first time.
“If in fact he is innocent or he did not get a fair trial, that obviously reflects badly on the justice system,” says Pat Furman, who was a defense attorney for 20 years before his current position as professor of clinical law at the University of Colorado-Boulder. “If there was prosecutorial misconduct, it might rise to the level of something that the (state) Supreme Court looks at in terms of unethical behavior. A failure by the prosecution to provide exculpatory evidence is a significant violation. It’s a Constitutional violation, and it could result in sanctions against the prosecutors who violated that duty, personal sanctions by the Supreme Court. Prosecutors are held to the highest standard of all lawyers because they represent the government.”
Furman says sanctions could involve disbarment, which, in the case of Gilmore and Blair, would mean they could no longer serve as judges since district judges are required to be lawyers. There could also be criminal penalties, he says.
Repercussions could also be felt more widely, since an overturned verdict could lead to other appeals on the same grounds in different cases.
“I think that if the prosecutors are shown to have conspired against this guy or to have broken the law, any other defendants who were convicted by these guys will at least try to reopen their cases,” says Moran, the professor from Mount Holyoke College. “If you question the credibility of the judges when they were prosecutors, people might try to question their credibility when they were judges.
“Yes, it could lead to a lot of trouble and it could lead to a wholesale investigation of the justice system.”
Friday, July 6, 2007
What you can do now...
For the past almost eight months as people have heard the story of Eric Volz's arrest and imprisonment, after the look of disbelief, there comes a question: "what can we do?" We struggle to believe, still, that this situation is as dire as it appears, that the chance for Eric to be freed hangs by such thin threads. After all, we understand justice to mean that if mistakes are made, they will ultimately be made right.
We wait together for this to become true. There have been and are still available opportunities to communicate with Eric, and to contribute to the costs of his defense. (go to http://www.friendsofericvolz.com/)
But now as we wait, we have another timely and important answer to the question, "what can we do?"
Between the dates of July 21st and 29th (the week that marks the beginning of the 9th month since Eric's arrest) the friends of Eric Volz are calling for all concerned persons and groups to gather together in whatever way your group practices prayer.
We will join together during this week to gather the powers of grace, mercy, forgiveness, justice and love. We believe these powers to be stronger than any of the systemic brokenness and evil that keeps innocent persons imprisoned. This is a time for faithful persons to lean toward the changing of processes and persons who have the power to decide to protect Eric's safety and to set him free.
If you are reading this, and as a group or individual wish to add your energy to hoping with many others, please let us know that you'll be setting aside time as an individual or with a group for a hour, a day, or spread out across this week of response.
Please email the name, email and physical address of the person who will coordinate the effort for your group to: email@example.com. As is possible we will provide materials electronically that can be reproduced as you choose for use with your group. We will also mail additional support materials to share with those who participate. (Please include an estimate of how many are needed in your response).
Thank you for your ongoing concern for Eric and his family.
Tuesday, July 3, 2007
On and between November 15-17, 1989, 16-year-old Angela Correa was sexually assaulted and murdered in Hillcrest Park in Peekskill, New York.
During the subsequent investigation conducted by members of the Peekskill Police Department, Jeffrey Deskovic made an oral confession to the crimes committed against Ms. Correa. A Restriction Fragment Length Polymorphism (RFLP) analysis conducted by the FBI laboratory of a vaginal swab secured from the deceased victim developed a DNA profile which excluded Deskovic as the donor. Because the present DNA identification system had not been established at the time the DNA profile was not place in Combined DNA Index System. Until September 2006, the identity of the source of the DNA has never been determined. During defendant’s jury trial in 1990, this exculpatory DNA evidence was fully explored before the trier of fact.
In December of 1990, at the conclusion of the evidence, Jeffrey Deskovic was convicted upon a jury verdict of the crimes of murder in the second degree (two counts), rape in the first degree and criminal possession of a weapon in the fourth degree. On January 18, 1991, he was sentenced to fifteen years to life for the crime of murder, eight and one third to twenty-five years for the crime of rape and one year for the crime of criminal possession of the weapon. The sentences were ordered to run concurrently. The defendant’s judgment of conviction was unanimously affirmed on appeal by the Appellate Division, Second Department (People v Deskovic 201 AD2d 579). Leave to appeal to the Court of Appeals was denied (83 NY2d 1003).
In June 2006 I was contacted by Barry Scheck, Esq. of the Innocence Project, who requested, on behalf of his client Jeffrey Deskovic, my consent to a CPL 440.30 (1-a) motion for a Short Tandem Repeat (STR) analysis of the DNA recovered from the victim and then a CODIS upload of the STR DNA profile obtained in the case of People v Jeffrey Deskovic, Indictment # 90-0192. I agreed that a CODIS upload was most appropriate under the circumstances of the case as the source of the DNA profile was never identified.
On June 28, 2006, Nina Morrison, Esq. of the Innocence Project submitted a proposed motion to my office seeking post-conviction DNA testing pursuant to CPL 440.30 (1-a) (copy attached), However, as evidence establishing that the defendant had been excluded as the donor of the DNA obtained from the vaginal swabs had been admitted at the 1990 trial, the CPL 440.30 (1-a) motion did not provide a legal mechanism to allow for the retesting of the crime scene DNA using STR and entering a search in CODIS.
More particularly, in 1994, CPL 440.30 (1-a) was enacted to establish a procedure whereby defendants convicted prior to 1996 could request post-conviction DNA testing of specified evidence collected in connection with their criminal case. Upon this motion, the court must determine whether any evidence containing DNA was secured in connection with the trial and, further the court must grant the defendant's application if it determines that had "a DNA test been conducted on (the) evidence and (had) the results (of that evidence been) admitted at trial, there exists a reasonable probability that the verdict would have been more favorable to the defendant." (CPL 440.30(1-a) (a), People Pitts, 4 NY2d 303). Since at the trial a DNA profile excluding the defendant was admitted into evidence before the triers of fact, CPL 440.30 (1-a) motion did not lie on the known facts of the case.
Thereafter, members of my staff met with members of the Westchester County Department of Laboratories to discuss a course of action in light of the troubling limitations presented under the Criminal Procedure Law in addressing the specific circumstances of this case. It was unanimously agreed that a new analysis of all of the evidence secured at the scene of the crime by the Westchester County Forensic Laboratory was the only course of action consistent with maintaining the fundamental tenets of justice and the integrity of the criminal justice system.
Since 1999-2000, the Westchester County Forensic Lab routinely performs STR DNA analysis on evidence collected in homicide investigations. All of us agreed that this case should not be treated differently, notwithstanding the duly affirmed judgment of conviction.
By letter dated August 8, 2006 I officially requested Frederick C. Drummond, Chief of the Forensic Science Services, conduct an expeditious STR analysis of the extant forensic evidence in this matter pursuant to the Laboratory’s established protocols for a cold case investigation. Mr. Drummond, who attended the meetings with members of my staff and who was in full accord with the practical resolution of the obstacles presented to a CODIS analysis in this case, immediately agreed. With the cooperation of the Peekskill Police Department all available evidence was submitted to the lab for retesting.
On September 15, 2006, my Office received a written confirmation dated September 13, 2006, from Linda E. Duffy, CODIS Administrator of the Forensic Science Laboratory, that a CODIS match was made with the DNA evidence from the Deskovic case (copy attached). The matched DNA was identified as that of a man who is presently a convicted inmate being held in the New State Department of Corrections. A criminal history of the inmate revealed that upon entry of a guilty plea for a murder committed in the Westchester County he is serving a life sentence and was prosecuted by the Westchester County District Attorney's Office. At this time the identity of the inmate is being withheld as he is now the prime suspect in this investigation into the rape and murder of Angela Correa.
Criminal Investigators from my office with the full cooperation of the Peekskill Police Department, reviewed the file maintained in this matter, interviewed members of the victim’s family and visited the crime scene. On September 18, 2006 my investigators were dispatched to the state prison facility at which the inmate is being housed. During that visit the inmate confessed to the rape and murder of Angela Correa.
On September 18, 2006 I contacted Barry Scheck and informed him of the newly discovered evidence and my intention to consent to a CPL 440.10 motion to vacate Mr. Deskovic’s conviction. There can be doubt upon all of this newly discovered evidence obtained within the last week, the defendant's motion to vacate the conviction must be granted as there is more than reasonable probability that had the jury heard this evidence, the conviction would not have been obtained. The People unequivocally consent to this motion.
"There is no relief for your unmeasurable loss that I may offer you, Mr. Deskovic, beyond granting the People's motion to dismiss this indictment"
- Police and prosecutorial tunnel vision
- Police over-reliance on NYPD profile
- Selective reading of Deskovic's statements
- Troubling police tactics in dealing with Deskovic
- Carelessness or misconduct in police investigation
- Prosecution decision to proceed with Grand Jury prosecution before receiving DNA evidence
- Prosecution's questionable presentation of scientific evidence
- Defense failure to use evidence of Deskovic's physcological vulnerabilities
- Defense failure to maximize the exculpatory value of the scientific evidence
- Defense conflict of interest in representing Freddy Claxton
In addition to the above failures, the report also cites the Court's midtrial loss of evidence as another contributing factor.
The report calls Deskovic’s case a “textbook illustration of tunnel vision in action”.
“Once Deskovic was arrested, tunnel vision also distorted the prosecution’s behavior. Convinced that its man was in custody, the District Attorney’s office successfully pressed for an indictment, rather than await the results of potentially exculpatory scientific testing.”
The report is critical of Peekskill police tactics on January 25, 1990, when Deskovic was subjected, for eight hours, to what is described as “an arduous series of interviews, the avowed purpose of which was to elicit a confession”. The procedure produced what amounted to a false confession.
Even Deskovic’s legal defense came under fire. The report faults the public defender defense for not adequately addressing the circumstances that led to the defendant’s false confession. “The Defense was scattered, unfocused and confusing” found the report.
The most scathing part of the report deals with the them District Attorney’s office handling of DNA evidence and its resolve to move ahead with a grand jury presentation before DNA test results were released. As things turned out, the DNA test did not provide a match between Deskovic and Correra.
Interviewed by the Journal News, Jeffrey Deskovic expressed surprise at the comprehensive findings and noted that the report confirmed his worst fears.
"I was surprised because the report was more thorough and critical than what I thought it was going to be," he said from the Mercy College campus in Dobbs Ferry, where he now studies and lives.
"But at the same time, it kind of confirmed my worst fears," he said, that "they were not going to interview any live witnesses and that they were only going to go by a cold record and that they had in fact proceeded without even offering me the opportunity of participating."
Not surprisingly, former DA Jeanine Pirro, who thankfully failed in a recent bid to become New York's Attorney General, responded to the report's findings by denying, through her attorney, recollection of the failures ascribed to her. Absent this recollection, the "raw deal" had by Mr. Deskovic is apparently not Ms. Pirro's fault, according to her lawyer, William Aronwald.
A lawyer for former District Attorney Jeanine Pirro said Tuesday that Pirro does not recall denying or even receiving any requests for DNA tests from a man who had been wrongly convicted of murder.
The convicted man, Jeffrey Deskovic, was freed last year, after 16 years in prison, when Pirro's successor, Janet DiFiore, had the crime scene DNA retested and it implicated another man.
Deskovic has claimed Pirro turned down his request several times. And a report on the case, requested by DiFiore and released Monday, stated that Pirro "consistently rejected" requests to run the crime scene DNA through state and federal databases. But Pirro's attorney, William Aronwald, said Tuesday that if the report's authors had asked her about it, "She would have told them that in fact she has no recollection of ever receiving any correspondence from Deskovic and certainly has no recollection of ever writing back to him or rebuffing any requests that he made for additional DNA testing."
Deskovic "did get a raw deal, but if he got a raw deal it wasn't at the hands of Jeanine Pirro," Aronwald said. [ Newsday ]