Judge a no-show to UW grad's sentencing in Nicaragua


by JOE FRYER / KING 5 News


Posted on September 6, 2011 at 6:02 PM

Updated Tuesday, Sep 6 at 6:21 PM

SEATTLE -- Relatives of a University of Washington graduate convicted of several crimes in Nicaragua are angry and frustrated with that country's judicial system after the judge failed to show up to a sentencing hearing Tuesday.

Jason Puracal was found guilty of money laundering, drug trafficking and organized crime in a Nicaraguan court last month.  Puracal, who was a real estate agent in Nicaragua, maintains his innocence and says the prosecution has no proof he committed any of those crimes.

Puracal was supposed to be sentenced Tuesday, but his attorney and representatives of the U.S. Embassy waited 30 minutes for the judge before learning he was not coming, Puracal's family said.

"It's an absolute insult," said Janis Puracal, Jason's sister, who lives in Seattle.  "It makes you really angry and makes you want to lash out and shake these people and make them understand that what they're doing is affecting a person."

It is unclear when Puracal will be sentenced.  His family cannot begin the appeals process until that sentence is handed down, and Nicaragua's appellate system currently has an 8-month backlog, the family said.

The prosecution is recommending a 22-year sentence, but the judge could put Puracal behind bars for up to 30 years, the family said.  Puracal has already spent 10 months in jail.

Puracal's relatives found a document from Nicaraguan courts that show the judge in this case was never licensed as an attorney, which they believe is a violation of Nicaraguan law.

"What we need to do is move through this process to make the U.S. government and the international community understand that the Nicaraguan judicial process is an absolute joke," Janis Puracal said.

Congressman Adam Smith has been helping the family, but Puracal's relatives hope the U.S. government will get more involved in the case.

Puracal lived in Nicaragua with his wife and 4-year-old son, Jabu.  Relatives fear what a long sentence would mean for the little boy.

"Jason would have missed his whole life, other than twice-a-month visits for his son," said Jaime Puracal, Jason's sister.  "That's not a life for a man that did nothing wrong."