MANAGUA – One year ago, appeals court magistrate Roberto Rodríguez, 61, was contemplating retirement to spend more time with his wife and family, and perhaps write a book.
Then, one fateful day last February, the Eric Volz case file got dumped on his desk – an event that has since shaped his career and turned his life upside down.
Rodríguez said that after carefully studying the entire case and all the evidence presented, he decided without a doubt that Volz, a 28-year-old real estate agent and magazine publisher, couldn’t possibly have killed his ex-girlfriend, a Nicaraguan.
That conclusion was shared by appellate judge Alejandro Estrada, who voted with Rodríguez in a 2-1 decision to overturn the U.S. man’s 30-year murder sentence last December.
Volz was eventually freed from state custody Dec. 21 and immediately left the country to an undisclosed location, fearful that he was being followed and that his life was at risk. A second Nicaraguan man, Julio Martín Chamorro, who was also convicted of the murder of Doris Ivania Jimenez, had his sentence upheld by the same Granada Appeals Court, prompting accusations of racism (NT, Dec. 21, 2007).
With Volz now out of the picture, Rodríguez has been left behind to face the music in an emotionally charged controversy in which the judge is accused of bribery, bending to pressure from the U.S. government, and/or participating in an underhanded political negotiation.
The fact that Rodríguez has U.S. citizenship and lived in the United States for 18 years has led some to speculate as to where his allegiances lie. So, too, has the fact that his father, Gen. Francisco Rodríguez Somoza, was a cousin of former dictator Gen. Anastacio Somoza.
Rodríguez, in addition to being under investigation by Sandinista magistrates of the Supreme Court, claims that he recently received a threatening phone call and is fearful for his security and that of his family.
He says that when he has to leave the house now, he combs his hair differently to alter his appearance and covers his face with his hands at intersections to avoid being identified at red lights. His children have urged him to leave the country.
“I have been in a state of terror,”Rodríguez told The Nica Times during an interview last week in his Managua home. “I can’t say that I am brave and that I don’t care what’s going to happen. Of course I’m afraid.
“I am not a hero or a saint,” he added, “but I am not going to abandon my wife, or leave my name stained.”
Still, the judge says, he would much rather have let another court and another judge handle the Volz case, if he had had any say in the matter.
“I’m not a masochist,” he said. “I was close to retiring, and now I’m in hell.”
Rodríguez and Estrada this week were called before the Supreme Court to explain their ruling on Volz, as part of an investigation that could take several months.
Rodríguez, in his prepared declaration to the Supreme Court, defended his decision as legally correct and morally right. He blasted those who have attacked him in the press by accusing him of corruption without any basis for doing so.
The judge also criticized the national media of “populism” and sensationalism for accusing him of “defending the rich, white Gringo, while attacking the poor, black Nicaraguan.”
Volz’s family, meanwhile, sent a statement to The Nica Times this week arguing that the whole nature of the Supreme Court’s investigation of Rodríguez and Estrada is in violation of the law.
“We would support a fully informed investigation that includes a comprehensive study of the case file, but the nature of this investigation is both subversive and illegal,” the family statement reads.
Rodríguez says he is concerned about public calls for him to serve out Volz’s overturned jail sentence, adding, “In Nicaragua, anything is possible.”
The conditions of Volz’s release and the subsequent crossfire of accusations have raised some new questions.
Although Volz was absolved by the Granada Appeals Court and ordered to be let free, he was ultimately deported from the country a week later by an order signed by the Ministry of the Interior, which answers directly to the president. The deportation order was enacted before the court order, making Volz’s ultimate release appear more like a political decision than a judicial one.
Rodríguez said that Volz even left the country without his passport, which he says is still in his case file.
Volz’s family acknowledged in its media statement that Volz was deported by executive order.
Opposition politicians have alleged that Volz’s release was part of a high-ranking, multi-faceted negotiation that involved political and economic deals for multiple players.
The main question that remains, however, is who killed Doris Ivania Jimenez? The young woman was found hogtied, raped and strangled in her clothing boutique in San Juan del Sur on Nov. 21, 2006, and all indications suggest the killer didn’t act alone. No clear motive was determined.
The Volz family this week alluded to a separate private investigation that has been conducted quietly for some time now, and suggests that the “main perpetrator of Doris’ murder is from a powerful and influential Nicaraguan family” who has been protected by an elaborate conspiracy among highranking government officials, police and state prosecutors in order to scapegoat Volz.
Rodríguez, for his part, said such a complicated conspiracy would be difficult to imagine, but that he can’t rule out that possibility.
He said that from what he has learned, it’s possible Volz made some powerful enemies from his days as a real estate agent in San Juan del Sur.