Thursday, March 8, 2007

Nashvillian may have been convicted of murder just because he is an American

Outrage threatens justice

Could "us v. them" mentality have the same effect here?

update 7/3/07: Outside Magazine has this in-depth report about the public outcry in Nicaragua.

The Nashville City Paper reported here and the Tennessean reported here about Eric Volz, a Nashvillian immigrant to Nicaragua who was convicted of murder in that country in circumstances that have led some to believe that anti-immigrant sentiment had more to do with the conviction than evidence of guilt:

Festering anti-American sentiment, biased journalism and the politics of fear all contributed to the unjust murder conviction of Nashville native Eric Volz in Nicaragua earlier this month, Volz’s U.S. attorneys said Tuesday.

In a conference call with local and national reporters, two of Volz’s Atlanta-based attorneys, along with one witness who testified on Volz’s behalf – but whose testimony was thrown out by the Nicaraguan judge who tried the case – explained that the 27-year-old Volz was victimized by the local authorities and press in the aftermath of the murder of a popular young girl who had a prior relationship with the American.

"Americans have come into this little town of San Juan Del Sur and bought up a lot of the land," Reedy said. "And once the papers said it was 'el gringo,' Eric became an easy target."
Could the same problem surface in Nashville? Last year, Men's Health magazine rated Nashville the fifth angriest city in the U.S. (story here), and immigrants have been the target of a weaponized political debate in Tennessee:
"On Web sites, talk radio shows and in interviews, anti-illegal immigration activists describe Hispanic migrants as lawless, disease-ridden 'invaders' waging an undeclared war against the United States." (story here).
Last October, the Tennessean ran a story (linked here) in which criminal defense attorneys wondered whether the violent tone of the political debate about immigrants in the U.S. could derail justice in Nashville:
Passionate emotions surrounding the issue of illegal immigration are forcing criminal defense attorneys to contend with what they see as a growing problem: Can illegal immigrant defendants get a fair trial?

Davidson County's top prosecutor, however, said he had not seen juror bias against illegal immigrants.

"That's not to say that it's not an issue that a defense attorney might want to explore," District Attorney General Torry Johnson said. "But I'm not aware of and have no reason to be concerned that that's a problem in Davidson County."
Photo by Hughes Leglise

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