At the Lake: Former Tahoe man convicted of rape, murder | RecordCourier.com

At the Lake: Former Tahoe man convicted of rape, murder

Provided by the Tahoe Daily Tribune

A Nashville native with strong ties to the South Shore is facing three decades of incarceration in a Nicaraguan prison for heinous crimes against an ex-girlfriend, despite wide-spread pleas regarding his innocence.

Eric Volz was convicted on Feb. 21 to 30 years in jail for the daylight rape and murder of Doris Ivanez Jimenez in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua, on Nov. 21, 2006.

“It’s hard to believe that something like this is happening to a good friend,” said Brian Levy, owner of Divided Sky.

Volz lived “off and on” at the South Shore from around 1996 until 2000, according to Levy. He said that Volz’s arrest and conviction has been “shocking to everyone” and added that violence is not a part of Volz’s nature.

The 27-year-old had been living in Nicaragua for about two years prior to his arrest. He published EP Magazine, “a bilingual travel lifestyle publication focused on cultural tourism, community, development, and entertainment,” according to the magazine’s Web site.

Shawn Harstad, Volz’s partner on the magazine, described the trial that took place in Rivas, Nicaragua as brimming with anti-Americanism and highly influenced by Jimenez’s mother, Mercedes Alvarado.

Alvarado has close ties to Nicaraguan journalists who waged a “full campaign against Eric” to ensure his conviction, according to Harstad.

Hundreds of people took to the streets of Rivas throughout the trial to call for Volz’s conviction. The tension came to a head on the day that the verdict was handed down.

“Police were forced to fire several shots into the air to disperse the group and quell a potential riot,” according to a report in The Nica Times, an American-owned, English-language weekly newspaper in Nicaragua.

It was not the first time the case had conjured an angry mob.

A Dec. 13 update to a Web site set up by the family of Volz, http://www.friendsofericvolz.com, recounts Eric’s daring escape from a machete-wielding mob that required him to slip his handcuffs and break through the wall of a casino office where he had briefly sought refuge.

Despite the sentiments of many Nicaraguans in the communities surrounding the murder, Harstad was vehement about Volz’s innocence. Harstad claimed that he, as well as several others, were with Eric at the time of the murder. He also cited cell phone records that trace Eric’s movement from Managua to San Juan del Sur after the murder took place on Nov. 21.

Prosecutors in the case disputed these claims, but produced little significant physical evidence to link Volz to the scene of the crime.

“None of the hairs found at the crime scene matched samples taken from Volz, and the Type O blood stains found on the sheets didn’t match Volz’s Type A,” according to The Nica Times report. “The only alleged eyewitness that placed Volz at the scene of the crime was a self-described drunk who was arrested shortly after the murder as one of the original suspects, before being let off.”

The mob mentality surrounding the trial and arguably biased media coverage ultimately led to Volz’s conviction, according to two members of Volz’s defense team, Joe Reedy and Jackie Becerra in a news report.

An appeal has been filed on Volz’s behalf, but the process “could be as quick as a few months or as long as a year,” according to Harstad.

Meanwhile, Volz remains in a Nicaraguan prison that isn’t much safer than the mob that chased him through the streets of Rivas, according to Harstad, who was recently given the opportunity to visit Volz.

Harstad said that Volz spirits remained high despite the circumstances.

“Considering what he’s gone through, he’s doing really well,” said Harstad. “This really couldn’t have happened to a stronger person.”

Information regarding what can be done to help Volz can be found at http://www.friendsofericvolz.com. The Web site gives instructions for writing to Eric, involving senators and congressmen in the case, and making donations to cover Volz’s legal expenses.

“The biggest thing is time,” said Harstad

At a mere age 12, Page Gustofson has a head start on the South Lake Tahoe body-conscious going into the swimsuit, or shall we say, shorts season.

The South Tahoe Middle School student lost 40 pounds since July on Weight Watchers, one of the older diet programs out of a smorgasbord available these days. The 40-year-old healthy eating program started by a friendly get-together promotes long-term management of eating and lifestyle habits that have somewhat relaxed over the years.

“I haven’t cut out sugar totally. I still eat fattening food,” she said Thursday, while trying her size 16 pants. She now wears size 8, keeps up jogging with her friends, feels better and has noticed a new-found popularity among boys.

Some of her friends have questioned how she can sustain herself on a structured meal plan. But she insists on having treats ” like an occasional chocolate, she said, smiling.

The family’s sit-down meals have followed the federal government’s food pyramid, which splits a plate into one half vegetables and two quarters divided into protein and grain.

“We eat steak, potatoes and salad. Weight Watchers is so healthy. We don’t deprive ourselves,” said Page’s mother Bonnie Gustofson, who joined the program with her daughter in July. She has lost 30 pounds.

Even London, the 11-year-old Gustofson sister, has lost 10 pounds in the process without hardly trying, she said with a shrug.

Soda and French fries were the culprits that got Page to grow to 187 pounds. Studies have shown an extra can of soda can pile on 15 pounds in a single year, and the weight of evidence strongly suggests to researchers that this sort of increased consumption is a key reason that more people have gained weight, according to a report filed in the American Journal of Clinical Health.

Now, she’s an advocate to good health by simply eating right and ongoing exercise. She plays softball, volleyball and basketball. She even advocates supporting other youth struggling with overweight issues and sharing how good health doesn’t have to be strangling.

And less restrictive dieting is critical to good health, nutritionists point out. They don’t necessarily advocate teenagers on restrictive, structured diet plans ” although many reports have indicated a growing number of young people wrestling with obesity and associated health ailments like diabetes. The number of U.S. children having obesity surgery has tripled in recent years, surging at a pace that could, according to research, mean more than 1,000 such operations this year, The Associated Press reported.

Nutritionists’ concern with young people dieting is the propensity for eating disorders.

“We don’t advocate diets for children. They can create eating disorders. We don’t want teens starting out that way. We focus on increased activity on the weekends and after school,” said Laura Dick, the Barton Memorial Hospital nutrition director who runs an outpatient program for those wanting to learn how to lose weight and have a doctor’s referral.

To join Weight Watchers, the Gustofson had to get a doctor’s note before the youngster could join the Tahoe group. Page’s mother said she didn’t worry about her daughter developing an eating disorder because the program has given her a healthy way of life.

And through the hospital’s Helping Hands program, the low income may sign up for the Barton nutrition program with financial assistance. The program follows the federal food guidelines and emphasizes a long-lasting lifestyle change, something Weight Watchers has stressed as well.

“Anybody can lose weight. But if they don’t change their mindset, the people will go off the diet and gain it back,” she said.

Of all the diets out there, Weight Watchers gets a better rating than most because it’s “scientifically based,” Dick added.