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UW grad freed from Nicaragua prison after 2 years
Jason Puracal, jailed for nearly two years in Nicaragua on money-laundering and drug charges, was released from prison Thursday after a court upheld his appeal.
The Associated Press
A Tacoma native jailed for nearly two years in Nicaragua on money-laundering and drug charges was released from prison Thursday after a court upheld his appeal.
Jason Puracal, 35, left the prison hunched down in the back seat of a car being driven by his lawyer without talking to reporters waiting outside.
Fabbrith Gomez, Puracal's lawyer, briefly stopped the car and said Puracal, who was wearing a blue dress shirt, needed a shower and some rest and wouldn't be speaking to the media Thursday.
Although released, Puracal is not free to leave Nicaragua, said Eric Volz, a spokesman for Puracal's family, in a statement released late Thursday.
"Despite the fact that Jason was released from prison this afternoon, authorities did not allow him to leave Nicaraguan territory. He is currently in a safe and undisclosed location and we are unable to predict when he will leave Nicaragua. He is in frequent contact with his family."
The case has drawn the scrutiny of members of Congress, including Rep. Adam Smith, D-Tacoma, and human-rights groups, including the California Innocence Project, which said Puracal's arrest was illegal and the process appeared marred with inconsistencies.
A three-judge appeals panel in Nicaragua on Wednesday notified prosecutors and the defense that it ruled to absolve Puracal, withdraw the 22-year sentence he received and free him.
It said in an emailed statement that the sentencing judge had failed to carefully examine the evidence and explain the reasons for convicting Puracal and 10 others. The panel agreed the judge violated the defendants' rights by not allowing the defense to introduce evidence.
Javier Morazan, chief of organized-crime prosecutors, told The Associated Press on Thursday that they had received notification of the ruling but still lacked details on why the charges against Puracal and 10 other defendants were lifted.
"We are going to study this case and then decide what steps we will take," Morazan said.
Puracal, a University of Washington graduate, settled in San Juan del Sur in the mid-2000s and became a real-estate agent selling beachfront homes to foreigners. He is married and has a young son.
On Nov. 11, 2010, police arrested Puracal at his office and took him to the nation's maximum-security prison just outside the capital of Managua, where he was held until Thursday.
Prosecutors charged that Puracal was using his real-estate business as a front for money laundering in a region used to transport cocaine from Colombia to the United States. His defense claimed the large bank deposits and withdrawals were all for legitimate home sales and involved no dealings with drug traffickers. He was convicted in August 2011.
Puracal's family, including his mother, Tacoma doctor Daisy Zachariah, and his sister, Janis Puracal, a Seattle attorney, waged an innocence campaign.
Janis Puracal told The Associated Press on Thursday that relatives had not been able to talk to Jason Puracal since the court decided to vacate the three charges because he had been kept in solitary confinement.
The family was assisted by Volz, managing director of The David House Agency, an international crisis resource agency. Volz himself was convicted in Nicaragua of the 2006 strangling death of his ex-girlfriend but absolved and released from prison.
In a statement, the agency said Puracal was "free and clear," but "will not be making any public statement ... for the foreseeable future."
Staff reporter Jonathan Martin contributed to this report.