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Freed American, Eric Volz, says he still can't rest

  • Story Highlights
  • Nicaraguan court overturned Volz's conviction in ex-girlfriend's murder
  • After returning to the U.S., Volz went into hiding out of fear for his safety
  • Volz: Doris forgotten in uproar over case
  • Prosecutors want Nicaraguan Supreme Court to reinstate conviction
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By Brittany Harris
CNN
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NEW YORK (CNN) -- Three weeks after he was released from a Nicaraguan prison where he spent more than a year of his life, 28-year-old Eric Volz says it's still hard to feel free.

Eric Volz

Eric Volz spent more than a year in a Nicaraguan jail before his murder conviction was overturned.

"I still can't believe I'm not in prison," Volz told CNN's Anderson Cooper. "I still can't believe there are not guns."

The Nashville,Tennessee, native was released from Nicaraguan custody in December 2007, after a three-judge panel overturned his conviction in the strangulation of his former girlfriend, Doris Jimenez. She was found killed in a clothing store she owned in the seaside town of San Juan del Sur.

Volz had lived in Nicaragua for several years and started a magazine called "El Puente," or "The Bridge," which he hoped would help close the divide between Nicaraguans and Americans.

The couple had broken up before Jimenez was murdered on November 21, 2006. Volz says he was hours away from the crime scene the night she was killed.

His alibi appeared to be airtight.

Ten witnesses placed Volz at an office in Managua -- a two-hour drive from San Juan del Sur -- on the morning Jimenez was killed.

But the presiding judge believed a witness who said he'd seen Volz in San Juan del Sur on the day of the murder. Nelson Dangla had originally been charged with killing Jimenez and was granted immunity in exchange for his testimony against Volz.

Volz says he knew from the beginning he would not be treated fairly.

"It was so obvious that I was innocent," Volz says. "It was almost like I was being held as a bargaining chip. It wasn't even real."

Anderson Cooper 360
Eric Volz tells CNN's Anderson Cooper why he still doesn't feel like a free man.
Watch tonight at 10 p.m. ET.

Before Volz was sentenced, a mob gathered in the streets, demanding justice. The scene was so chaotic that Volz was forced to barricade himself in an office with a U.S. Embassy official and kick through a wall to escape the crowd. Video Watch a preview of Volz's interview with Anderson Cooper »

"It was one of the darkest days of my life," Volz recalled. "Being an innocent man, seeing people that I knew who sincerely believed I was a murderer. They were out for blood."

For the next 14 months, Volz says he struggled to stay alive in prison.

"I kind of describe it as social chess," he says. "You really have to be very delicate in the relationships and not get too close to anybody, but also not isolate yourself too much. It was very tricky."

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Then, on December 17, 2007, a three-judge panel overturned Volz's conviction and ordered his immediate release from prison. It was four days before he was actually freed.

Volz says he was given just a moment's notice before his release.

"I didn't know I was going free until the moment they presented the release papers in front of my face," Volz says. "[It] was only 15 minutes before I got on a plane and I was leaving the country."

Even though Volz is home, he says the case is far from over.

The Nicaraguan judges who ruled in his favor may face jail time because of their decisions. And, prosecutors are taking Volz's case to the Nicaraguan Supreme Court to try and get his conviction re-instated.

Volz says the hardest part of the whole ordeal is that Jimenez has become forgotten in the uproar.

"A very talented, motivated young woman -- who was working hard to improve her life -- was murdered," he says. "Nobody really seems to care about her and who she was, and what she lived for."

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Despite everything that's happened to him there, Volz says he'd like to return to Nicaragua someday.

"I want people to know that there are a lot of good people in Nicaragua," Volz says. "I don't want them to blame Nicaragua in general." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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