American Eric Volz was freed by a judge on Friday despite an uproar in Nicaragua after an appeals court overturned his conviction and 30-year sentence in the slaying of his Nicaraguan girlfriend.
The 28-year-old from Nashville, Tennessee, accompanied by his mother, was freed from a prison hospital where he was being treated for kidney stones, driven by police-escorted ambulance to sign his release papers, then rushed to the airport where mother and son boarded a flight.
Volz left the country at 2:45 p.m. local time, State Department spokesman Kurtis Cooper said in Washington. The family landed in Honduras hours later, a security guard hired by the family told NBC News.
"We are pleased that the Nicaraguan Appeals Court decision ... has been implemented in accordance with Nicaraguan law," he said.
Live television broadcasts showed a caravan of news media following Volz as he headed toward the airport. At the airport, news reporters were barred from entering as Volz was escorted through a door usually reserved for traveling presidents or other top government officials.
Case enraged activists
An appeals court on Monday overturned Volz's conviction in the November 2006 death of 25-year-old Doris Ivania Jimenez, enraging prosecutors, human rights and women's rights activists who believe Volz is guilty.
Prosecutors said the victim put up a fight, matching scratch marks on Volz's shoulder. They also said he told an assistant to rent a car for him because "someone has died" before he said he learned of her death. The victim's mother said he had threatened to kill her daughter before.
Volz and a Nicaraguan man, Julio Martin Chamorro, were sentenced in February for the death of Jimenez, who was found raped and strangled in a clothing store she owned in Rivas, 55 miles south of Managua. The court upheld Chamorro's conviction in the murder.
A surfer-turned-real-estate-broker who also founded a local magazine in Nicaragua, Volz has claimed his innocence all along, saying he was two hours away from the crime scene at the time.
Volz's release was ordered by the same judge who convicted him, a step that is required by Nicaraguan law.
Judge Ivett Toruno, who convicted Volz, waited four days before agreeing to release him, citing problems with the files.
Volz's attorney claimed the judge was delaying the process to allow time for another appeal. It wasn't clear Friday where that effort stood.