Saturday, June 2, 2007

Nifonged in Nicaragua: Volz Judge Under Investigation By Nicaraguan Supreme Court

An article published yesterday in a Managua daily newspaper, El Nuevo Diario, questions the integrity of Judge Ivette Toruño Blanco, the judge who sentenced American Eric Volz to 30 years in prison for the rape and murder of Doris Ivania Jiménez despite overwhelming evidence of his factual innocence. Blanco, whose blatant disregard for Nicaraguan law in the Volz case has fueled outrage in the US and growing skepticism from more reputable media outlets in Nicaragua, is currently under investigation by the Nicaraguan Supreme Court for her role in an unrelated case, according to El Nuevo Diario. Not suprisingly, El Nuevo Diario, which has been at the forefront of the local tabloid propaganda campaign against Volz, fails to note the connection of the current scandal involving Judge Blanco to her equally corrupt decisions at Volz's trial.

In announcing the investigation of Judge Blanco, Armengol Cuadra, president of the Supreme Court of Nicaragua, labeled the decision by Judge Blanco to suspend the three year jail sentence of José Ernesto Pineda Salvador "strange and abnormal" while noting that her decision is in defiance of the high court's mandate to treat drug trafficking cases involving high sums of money (Pineda Salvador was captured with $1.4 million secreted in the rear doors of his Honda Civic) with extreme care.
“We are going to investigate the circumstances in which the judge granted that benefit to him, because we have stressed that judges must act with extreme caution in the cases of drug trafficking when there is very high sums of money involved,” said Armengol Cuadra.
In exchange for suspending the convicted drug trafficker's prison sentence, Judge Blanco required Pineda Salvador to pay one hundred thousand córdobas as a guarantee that he would return to her court annually. As an explanation for her decision which immediately followed the defendant's guilty plea, Blanco offered simply that he had no prior convictions in her jurisdiction. Supreme Court President Cuadra noted other irregularities in Judge Blanco's decision including her assignment of the convicted felon's mother, a Panamanian citizen, as guarantor of his annual return to court. By Nicaraguan law, foreign nationals are prohibited from acting as bondsmen, the role assigned by Blanco to María Cecilia Pineda.

While it is not surprising that El Nuevo Diario, which recently published altered photographs of marks on Volz's shoulders as if they were the genuine pictures presented at the farce of a trial presided over by Blanco, ignores the implications of the investigation into the ethically challenged Judge on Volz's appeal, their publication of the charges made by the President of the Supreme Court can only further call into question her decisions in the Volz case.

Among the more questionable rulings made by Blanco in the Volz trial are:
  • Prohibiting at least seven alibi witnesses from testifying on the grounds that their testimony would be redundant
  • Dismissing cell phone and cell tower records that incontrovertibly supported Volz alibi on the grounds that the records could not indicate who was using the cell phone at the times noted despite accepting testimony from a prosecution witness who stated that she spoke to Volz on the phone in question
  • Dismissing testimony from at least one prosecution expert witness that excluded Volz as the perpetrator on the grounds that the expert was not credible
  • Dismissing testimony from the three alibi witnesses (including a highly respected Nicaraguan journalist) she did allow to testify on the grounds that they were not credible
  • Accepting as credible the unsteady, and apparently drunken, testimony of the man initially charged with the crime who was found with scratches to his penis and body but granted immunity in exchange for implicating Volz
Initially, it was speculated by many that Judge Blanco's bizarre rulings at Volz's trial were motivated by concerns for her safety. Shortly after the verdict, one of Volz's attorneys, Joe Reedy, an attorney with the law firm of Greenberg Traurig, suggested:
There has been a horrible murder, and the people want somebody to pay for it...If she was frightened for her life, or frightened for the safety of her family, in a community where they had wielded machetes and chased our client three blocks along with a U.S. Embassy official, it would have been understandable.
Given the allegations made by Supreme Court President Cuadra, it appears that Judge Blanco's motives in the Volz case may be less "understandable" than initially assumed.

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