Freed American recalls Nicaragua prison ordeal

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 21, 2012 9:59 PM
Freed American recalls Nicaragua prison ordeal

By Jonathan Kaminsky

SEATTLE, Washington (Reuters) - An American recently freed from a Nicaragua jail after being wrongfully convicted of drug trafficking said on Friday he plans to put his ordeal in prison behind him and go to graduate school.

Jason Puracal, 35, said he might establish a non-profit organization focused on sustainable development, such as bringing potable water to the prison where he was housed for nearly two years.

"I'm not the type of guy who is going to sit around and cry about what happened," Puracal told a homecoming gathering in his native Washington state.

Puracal, a U.S. citizen, was jailed in Nicaragua for nearly two years after being wrongfully convicted of drug trafficking and money laundering charges.

Freed mid-month after a campaign by international rights activists to overturn his charges, he spoke of his prison ordeal at the University of Washington in Seattle to about a dozen supporters.

During his first 20 months in the Nicaraguan prison, Puracal said he lived in a cramped cell with nine to 12 other inmates, surrounded by vermin and cockroaches and without access to clean water.

Puracal said conditions improved in his last two months behind bars in Nicaragua when he could finally eat something other than beans and rice, the Central American country's national dish.

"I put on 15 lbs in the last two months," Puracal said. "That's why I look like I do now."

Appearing relaxed and healthy and sporting a thick black goatee, Puracal said he was also provided medical attention and was put on eight different medications to treat the digestive problems he developed while behind bars.

The newly freed man heard applause and cheers from the supporters during his talk at a law school classroom at the university.

Puracal, who ran a real estate firm in the Pacific Coast surfing resort of San Juan del Sur, was taken into custody in November 2010 by Nicaraguan authorities and charged with money laundering, drug trafficking and engaging in organized crime. He was found guilty nine months later, along with 10 Nicaraguan co-defendants, and sentenced to 22 years in prison.

His sister, Janis Puracal, a Seattle-based attorney who spearheaded efforts to get him released, has said she suspects his flamboyant appearance at the time of his arrest, including long hair, tattoos, and a flashy car, may have drawn unwanted attention from Nicaraguan authorities.

An appeals court ordered Puracal freed. His co-defendants, all of whom testified they had never met or worked with him, were also released last week after an appeals court ordered that their trial be annulled. The appeals court found that the trial judge did not substantiate the reasons for Puracal's verdict and excluded evidence defense attorneys wanted to present.

(Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Lisa Shumaker)