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Video: Mom wants son released

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TODAY contributor
updated 12/21/2007 9:43:36 AM ET 2007-12-21T14:43:36

Fearing that her son’s life is in danger, the mother of American Eric Volz on Friday called on the U.S. government to apply pressure to secure his release from a Nicaraguan prison in response to a court ruling that he could not have killed his former girlfriend.

“My son is in grave danger,” Maggie Anthony told TODAY co-host Meredith Vieira from Managua, Nicaragua. “If he has to go to prison, I’m fearful I’ll never see him again. He has to be released today.”

Next week, the courts close down for the Christmas holidays and do not return until mid-January.

Volz had been held for the past 45 days in a prison hospital, where he was being treated for gastrointestinal ailments, kidney stones and asthma. He was ordered returned to prison on Thursday because the judge who convicted him has refused to sign his release papers.

Volz was convicted in February of the rape and murder of Doris Ivania Jimenez, his former girlfriend who owned a dress shop in San Juan del Sur. The small town is about two hours from the capital of Managua, where Volz lived and published EP Magazine, a bilingual publication that promoted sustainable eco-tourism in the Central American Republic.

The judge who found Volz guilty, Ivette Toruno Blanco, refused to consider evidence from witnesses and cell phone records that placed Volz in Managua at the time the murder was committed. She also found him guilty of rape despite the fact that investigators found no evidence that she had been sexually assaulted.

On Monday, a Nicaraguan appellate court, in a 2-1 decision, found there was no evidence that Volz committed the crime and ordered his immediate release. Since then, Blanco has made a series of excuses for not signing the papers, saying she had a flat tire, the court documents were not numbered correctly, and even saying they weren’t stapled properly.

“Why Eric Volz is in prison, I don’t know,” one of the appellate judges, Robert Rodriguez, said in a report filed from Managua by NBC’s Kerry Sanders. “As I said, there’s no way he can do it. Physically, he cannot commit it. The only thing that I’m sure of is that if they keep Eric Volz in prison, it is a total mistake.”

Even U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has weighed in, saying, “The court has spoken. We expect him to be released.”

Big news in Nicaragua
The case has been front-page news in Nicaragua, where Volz is characterized in headlines as “the gringo.” The local Sandinista party took up the case, fanning public opinion against Volz, who was dressed in body armor during his trial, while angry mobs demonstrated outside the courthouse.

Now, some are accusing Volz’s family of paying off the appeals court judges to have his conviction overturned.

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The anti-American sentiment is what makes Anthony, who lives in Nashville, so fearful for her son’s life in the general prison population.

She has been in Managua since Wednesday lobbying for Volz’s release. She visited him on Wednesday, taking him a piece of homemade chocolate cake.

“I have gone to the Supreme Court, I went to the appellate court, I went on television, and I petition anyone in the Nicaraguan government to talk to me and tell me what’s going on with my son,” she told Vieira.

Asked if anti-Americanism is the reason he continues to be held, Anthony replied, “Absolutely. There’s no doubt about it. To call someone a ‘gringo’ is a very derogatory term.”

Anthony said continued diplomatic pressure by the federal government is her son’s only hope.

“I think that’s the only thing that’s going to help at this point,” she said.

“There’s absolutely no response from the government here. My son is a free man. He was declared by their own judicial system that he should be let go immediately.”

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