Category Archives: Political cases

Former AG of Canada Intervenes in Jason Puracal Case in Nicaragua

Eric Volz

This article was written and submitted by Eric Volz.  Volz is the managing director of The David House Agency – a U.S.- based, strategic resource organization supporting individuals facing injustice abroad. Their expertise lies in managing cases in which political and cultural undertones complicate the judicial process. Other cases in which he and his organization have been involved in include: Amanda Knox and Rafaelli Solecito (Italy), The Hikers (Iran), Jason Puracal (Nicaragua), Amir Hekmati (Iran), as well as international child custody and parental kidnapping matters.  Volz is also the author of Gringo Nightmare.  Visit his website here.

The wrongful conviction of Jason Puracal in Nicaragua is monumental and serves as a chilling milestone in the emerging trend of international “show” trials.  This case has serious implications for citizens of the Global North studying, working, traveling, or retiring abroad.
[Editor’s note:  To become introduced to the case, you can watch this introductory video, visit the official website, or see our prior post by Justin Brooks….]
In short, 10 years ago, Jason Puracal moved to Nicaragua to serve in the Peace Corp. He fell in love with the country, its people, and the woman that would become his wife. Today, he is struggling to survive the fight of his life. He has been held in a Nicaraguan prison since November 2010 on sham charges of drug trafficking, money laundering and organized crime. There is no evidence linking him to any crimes. Held for over nine months in subhuman conditions before he went to trial, this September he was convicted and sentenced to 22-years in prison – by a “judge” was not even a licensed attorney, in violation with Nicaraguan and international law. (click to see Jason Z. Puracal v. Government of Nicaragua)

Jason Puracal with family

While he waits his appeal, he is slowly dying in prison. He has been denied food, water, and proper medical care. He suffered from infections caused by the inhumane prison conditions and has developed an inflammatory condition due to the bacteria in the food. His family is concerned he will not live long enough see his own appeal.

Recent Development:
Last week saw a unique face off between a former Attorney General of Canada and Attorney General of Nicaragua over the case of this American. Former Attorney General of Canada, and private counsel to Nelson Mandela, Irwin Cotler, addressed a powerful letter to the Attorney General of Nicaragua, Julio Centeno, urging him to order a review of Jason’s wrongful conviction. Read letter here.  The letter notes as well that the California Innocence Project has formally accepted the case.
Centeno responded in the press claiming that the conviction was delivered according to law.
Stay tuned to the WC Blog for future updates on the case.
La condena injusta de Jason Puracal en Nicaragua es monumental y sirve como un marco escalofriante en la nueva tendencia de los secuestros institutionales al nivel internacional. Este caso tiene serias implicaciones para los ciudadanos de países desarollados quienes, estudian, trabajan, viajan, o se retiran en el extranjero.

La semana pasada vío un rostro único de entre un ex fiscal general de Canadá, y el fiscal general de Nicaragua acerca del caso de este estadounidense. El ex Fiscal General de Canadá, y el consejo privado a Nelson Mandela, Irwin Cotler, dirigió una carta poderosa a la fiscal general de Nicaragua, Julio Centeno, sugiriendole a ordenar una revisión de la condena injusta de Jason Puracal. Centeno respondió en la prensa diciendo que la condena haya sido entregada de acuerdo a la ley.

Alleged Lockerbie Bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi Close to Death, Confident He Will Be Exonerated Someday Soon…

I have previously blogged herehere, here and here about the alleged wrongful conviction of Megrahi, known as the Lockerbie Bomber.  A member of his defense team now says he is on the verge of death.  Megrahi is confident he will be fully exonerated after his “imminent” death…Details here

Scottish CCRC’s 800-Page Report on Problems in “Lockerbie Bomber” Conviction Leaked…

From a news source:

Glasgow-based newspaper the Sunday Herald published the 800-page Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) report on its website.  It documents the details of al Megrahi’s second appeal in 2007. According to the report, prosecutors failed to disclose seven pieces of evidence that led to the fresh appeal.  The SCCRC upheld six grounds that could have constituted a miscarriage of justice.  Megrahi was convicted of murder over the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which was destroyed over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 2001.

At the end of an 800-page report, the commission says: “In accordance with the principles set out at the beginning of this chapter the Commission has also considered whether, notwithstanding its conclusion that a miscarriage of justice may have occurred, the entirety of the evidence considered by it
points irrefutably to the applicant’s guilt. The Commission’s conclusion is that it does not.”

“In these circumstances the Commission believes not only that there may have
been a miscarriage of justice in the applicant’s case, but also that it is in the interests of justice to refer the case to the High Court. The Commission accordingly does so.”

The release of the report has been applauded, and some have called for an inquiry into the official misconduct

More here

Following Stevens Trial Report, Senator Introduces Legislation for New Federal Disclosure Standards

With the backing of the American Bar Association, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Civil Liberties Union, among others, legislation introduced by Senator Lisa Murkowsk (R-Alaska) seeks to create a new national standard for prosecutorial disclosure of evidence in federal cases. This comes in the wake of the scathing 524-page report recently unsealed that concluded prosecutors in the Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) case “intentionally withheld and concealed significant exculpatory information.”

In an article in Roll Callthe longstanding newspaper of Capital Hill, Peter Awindenbert, a partner at DLA Piper, said this issue goes well beyond this case: Continue reading

Did the U.S. Make Undisclosed Payments to State Witnesses in the Lockerbie Bombing Case?

Many now believe that the so-called “Lockerbie Bomber” was wrongfully convicted.  Now it appears that one of the many things that was not disclosed to his defense counsel prior to or during trial was the that U.S. Department of Justice made secret payments to prosecution witnesses.  Details here.  More on evidence in the case that was withheld from the defense.

Are We Going to Let Jason Puracal Die in a Nicaraguan Prison?

This past month, while hundreds of men burned in their cells in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Jason Puracal lay on a concrete floor 150 miles away in Tipitapa, Nicaragua, where he shares a small, bug infested cell with seven other inmates.  Jason is trapped in that cell 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, except for one hour he gets to spend outside next to the prison’s open sewer system.  There are exposed electrical wires and no running water. There is a hole in the corner that serves as a toilet, a drain for bathing, and a sink for washing dishes.  Buckets of parasite infested water are carried in, and the only way to drink the water is to boil it with a makeshift heating system that caused Jason severe burns this past September.  The burns blistered and became infected.  The bugs chewed away at his wounds.  He has since developed an inflammatory condition in his bowels that makes it extremely difficult to eat.  He has lost a tremendous amount of weight and it is unlikely he will survive even a portion of his 22 year prison sentence.

The conditions that Jason lives under would be horrible for anyone.  What makes them shocking is that he is an innocent man, wrongfully convicted by a failed justice system.

Jason’s current reality is not the life he imagined when in 2002, after obtaining a degree in Zoology from the University of Washington, he moved to Nicaragua to serve in the Peace Corps.  He fell in love with the country and a beautiful Nicaraguan woman.  When his tour ended he stayed.  He married his girlfriend, had a son, and started a career as a realtor in the beach town of San Juan del Sur.  His life seemed like a dream.  He was even featured on HGTV’s House Hunters International with cameras following him around as he showed beach homes to enthusiastic Americans looking to invest in the “new Costa Rica.”

That life ended on November 11, 2010, when armed and masked Nicaraguan police forced their way into his office and his home without a warrant and seized all his computers and files.  No evidence of criminal activity was found.  Nonetheless, Jason was arrested and later charged with money laundering and drug trafficking.

Jason’s trial was a sham.  It was overseen by a 27 year old judge who was not even a licensed attorney.  His real estate office’s escrow account was used as alleged evidence of money laundering and Jason wasn’t permitted to call his accountant to explain the escrow process and document all of the money that had moved in and out of the account as a result of property purchases.  The key prosecution witness did not even know what an escrow account was.

No drugs were found in Jason’s home or office.  The only “drug evidence” was testimony by a police officer about a VaporTracer test that can detect microscopic traces of drugs, but has been widely panned by courts due to cross contamination of evidence.  In fact, initially Jason’s car and clothes tested negative, but after they were taken into custody, and likely came into contact with other evidence or officers who had been exposed to drugs, there was an alleged 70% reading.  That meant a 70% chance that his car and clothes came into contact with drugs.  This flimsy evidence was unsupported by documentation at trial and riddled with contamination problems.

In a United States court the evidence against Jason would never support a conviction, or even probable cause to hold him in jail pending trial.  In Nicaragua, it was enough for a conviction and 22 year prison sentence.  Yet, Jason’s family has faced an uphill battle in fighting for his freedom.  Even though the United States has condemned the recent elections in Nicaragua as riddled with corruption, with Hillary Clinton calling the elections a “setback for democracy,” Jason’s case has largely been treated by U.S. government officials as just another drug case where an American got caught up in international trafficking.  His case has not received the attention of political cases where injustice is obvious and this is very dangerous precedent.

If other countries know that all they have to do is call a case a drug case, even when there are no drugs recovered, all Americans become potential targets when they travel outside the country.  We should all be concerned for Jason.  He represents the treatment we are willing to accept when our fellow citizens are wrongfully arrested and convicted in foreign countries.


Human Rights Watch: Hundreds of Innocents Railroaded in Bahrain in Joke Trials…

Human Rights Watch issued a report this week revealing that officials in Bahrain have been using the ordinary criminal courts to trump up charges against innocents in politically motivated trials to crush dissent.  Report here.  Details here.

Corruption in Nigerian Courts that Leads to Wrongful Convictions

The long arm of the law was finally long enough to nab former Nigerian Delta state Governor James Ibori. The investigation and trial in the UK lasted more than 7years before a conviction was secured. Well, technically he was said to have pleaded guilty for the charges to be dropped. One and the same you might say.

The UK conviction however exposes the current state of rot, incompetence and corruption within the Nigerian bench. Or, how else do you explain the clean bill given to Ibori, on same or similar charges by the Nigerian high court, for which he has now finally been convicted and awaiting sentence on the 16th of April? This initial wrongful acquittal is emblematic of the problems that leads to wrongful convictions in Nigeria, where justice is dispensed to the highest bidder, whilst indigent accused persons languish for years in detention centers. For a fuller report, read Andrew Walker’s report on BBC news here

U.S. Federal Judge Denies Prosecutorial Immunity

Federal Judge Elaine Bucklo has denied prosecutorial immunity to former Illinois Assistant State Attorney Mark Lukanich in a law suit brought by Ronald Kitchen who spent 21 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Kitchen’s confession was extracted during the reign of disgraced imprisoned former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge, notorious for torturous interrogations. Kitchen says that Lukanich was aware of his torture because he was nearby during the interrogation. The judge has ruled that Lukanich’s alleged role was part of the investigative part of the case and therefore not covered by prosecutorial absolute immunity.

Nearly a year ago, as reported by the Chicago Tribune, Judge Bucklo wondered aloud why the City of Chicago had sent an army of lawyers to fight the law suit brought by Kitchen. “I don’t understand this case. Why don’t you settle? [Kitchen] was declared innocent. Burge is in jail. Have you tried to settle this?” she asked. The Tribune editorialized that the longer Chicago refuses to settle multiple cases relating to the coerced confessions, the more the reputation of the city would suffer.