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(L to R) Janis Puracal, Jason Puracal, California Innocence Project Director Justin P. Brooks, and recent exoneree Brian Banks
[Photo courtesy of Marco Macklis]
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American Wrongly Imprisoned in Nicaragua Thanks California Western School of Law
California Innocence Project helped publicize Jason Puracal's story and fought for his release

SAN DIEGO, October 29, 2012 - The California Innocence Project’s first international client, Jason Puracal, visited California Western School of Law today to thank students, faculty, and staff for their help in securing his release from the Nicaraguan prison where he was wrongly imprisoned for nearly two years.

“Any exoneration takes a village: lawyers, law students, community assistance. But I’ve never seen a case that took a larger community than this one,” said California Innocence Project Director Justin Brooks, who provided Puracal with pro bono legal assistance and advocacy.

In September, Nicaraguan authorities released Puracal, a 35-year-old Tacoma, Wash. native, from prison after a nearly two-year legal effort to prove his innocence. He spent more than 500 days in Nicaragua’s notorious La Modelo Prison after being wrongfully convicted on drug trafficking and money laundering charges in 2011.

Two years ago, Puracal was living a good life, helping vacation-home seekers locate properties in Nicaragua. His real estate successes were documented in an episode of HGTV’s “House Hunters International,” in which he showed beach homes to enthusiastic Americans.

His fortunes took a turn in November of 2010, when masked Nicaraguan police raided the home of the former Peace Corps volunteer suspected of drug trafficking and money laundering. While Nicaraguan officials alleged Puracal used his real estate escrow account to launder money for an international drug ring, no supporting evidence was presented at trial and the government’s expert witness was unable to explain or define an escrow account. Police found no evidence of drugs in Puracal’s home or office, and the 10 co-defendants testified that they had never met Puracal. Regardless, he was sentenced to 22 years.

Unsanitary conditions at the prison resulted in illness and infection, and Puracal lost more than 40 pounds. He feared he would die in prison unless U.S. and international agencies intervened on his behalf.

“Watching Jason slowly die in prison was just unimaginable to me,” said Janis Puracal, Jason’s sister and attorney, who also attended the event and led the legal efforts to fight for his exoneration.

While Jason Puracal is free and has returned to the United States, his legal battle continues. The prosecutor who originally charged him with drug trafficking and money laundering has appealed the annulment of his conviction to the Nicaraguan Supreme Court.

“The case is still not over, and probably will not be for many years,” said Janis Puracal, who along with Jason, gave a presentation on the many evidentiary and procedural problems with the case before a room packed with aspiring attorneys.

The Puracal family will continue its legal efforts to prove Jason’s innocence in Nicaragua, and fight for legal reforms in the country, so others won’t face the same injustices he endured.

“The California Innocence Project at California Western School of Law was proud to represent Jason and stand alongside the David House Agency, the Puracal family, and all of the social activists who fought so hard for his release,” said Brooks. “His case is yet another reminder that there are innocent people in prison in the United States and around the world who need public support.”

In September, Puracal talked to CNN’s Anderson Cooper about his wrongful conviction, life in prison, and recent release. For more information about the Puracal case, visit http://www.FreeJasonP.com.

About the California Innocence Project
Founded in 1999, the California Innocence Project is a California Western School of Law clinical program dedicated to the release of wrongfully convicted inmates and providing an outstanding educational experience for students enrolled in the clinic. The California Innocence Project reviews approximately 2,000 claims from inmates each year and has earned the exoneration of nine wrongfully convicted clients since its inception.