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      The Boxer, the Murder, and the Hard Fall from Grace

      October 30, 2013

      Evans Quinn was charismatic and beloved by most of the people of Bluefields, Nicaragua but he could also turn violent. Photos via RightSide Guide and Notifight

      The argument started over gas money. It escalated to the point where a man got shot in the testicles. And it finished with one of the participants murdered and the other—a professional boxer with 20 victories to his name—in prison.

      The dead man’s name was Raul Bennett Sambola, and I’ll get to him, but it was the boxer’s involvement that made the argument and its aftermath famous up and down Nicaragua’s poverty-stricken Atlantic coast. Evans Quinn was a 28-year-old heavyweight at the time of the February 2012 murder; just nine months earlier he had been in Nevada fighting Seth Mitchell. That bout ended with Quinn getting knocked out in the first round, after which he returned to his hometown of Bluefields. But before that humiliation, before he got involved in a feud, killed Sambola, went on the run, and was finally thrown in prison, Quinn was already a local legend, beloved by the people of Bluefields because he was one of them. As he came up through the boxing ranks, they imagined he’d make it to the top and show the world that the people in this poor but lively region are fighters and winners.

      “God gave Evans Quinn the ability to rise up the people of Bluefields,” a local pastor told me. “But he threw it away.”

      It’s hard to describe Quinn without using words like “potential” and “ability.” He was charismatic as hell, handsome, successful, and able to make whoever he talked to feel like he was the most important person in the world. He claimed to have seven wives (“I’m Muslim,” he told me) and surrounded himself with friends, drugs, women, and guns. But he could also be dangerous—if you crossed him, he wasn’t afraid to use his immense physical talents to show you who was boss. Like when he punched that pastor’s son in the mouth just because the kid was at a nightclub with a girl Quinn thought would be better off with him.

      “He was crazy, but he could have done great things,” the pastor said. That’s how eager many in Bluefields were to look the other way when Quinn did something most people would be hated for. That was the influence the boxer had once had here. Today Quinn is still a legend, but now that he’s in prison, his glory days long burned away to ash, his story is now one about wasted potential, or a cautionary tale about what happens when a man takes justice into his own hands. If you’re willing to forgive his excesses and his ugly violent streak, he could even be a folk hero who got thrown in prison by cops with a grudge against him.

      Quinn after knocking out JJ McAllister in the first round. Image via YouTube

      Growing up, Quinn didn’t have formal training in the sweet science, but he learned the basics from his father, a tall, muscular man with dark skin and strong features who looks like the kind of guy who would teach his kids how to box rather than letting them swing away when they get into scrapes.

      After growing up into a powerful six-foot-three body and dominating the amateur scene in the Nicaraguan army, Quinn went pro in 2004 and spent the next couple years fighting in his home country and Costa Rica. Although he didn't beat any particularly good or famous boxers, he compiled a 13-2 record and attracted the attention of legendary promoter Don King, who gave him a contract to come to the US to compete on bigger stages for more money. He even got a nickname: “The Sandman.”

      Quinn never became a household figure in America, but he was a talented and, for a while, successful boxer. He won his first four matches on US soil—in his 2007 fight against JJ McAllister he danced around, mocked his opponent, and showboated for the crowd before landing a couple quick blows and sending poor overmatched JJ to the mat 49 seconds into the first round. He was able to similarly beat down other mediocre competitors, but he gained a reputation as a lazy fighter who didn’t seem to have much drive.

      “The guy could fight, but his heart wasn't into the preparation that needed to come with being a top-class boxer,” said Matt Clark, who managed Quinn for his last three professional bouts. “He didn't dedicate himself physically and mentally to the game. He was all about the money.”

      One of Quinn’s friends had a more sympathetic explanation.

      “I don’t think he ever really wanted to be a boxer,” said Ariel Hamilton, a fellow Bluefields native who met Quinn in Miami. “He was good at it, so he did it. But it just wasn’t what he wanted to do every day.”

      What Quinn did want to do every day, at least for a time, was party. After winning 13 fights in a row, he was scheduled to face off against Harvey Jolly—a fading boxer six years older than him who had more losses than wins—on April 24, 2009, in St. Louis. It was supposed to be an easy win, a warm-up on the road to some more important contests he had scheduled over the next few months. But he was beginning to lose interest in fighting, even as the training became more rigorous and the competition got tougher. Hamilton told me Quinn preferred carousing in Miami with his entourage of Nicaraguan expats to getting into a ring or lifting weights.

      Quinn lost the fight to Jolly, which should have been a sign he needed to change his habits, but either he didn’t see it that way or simply didn’t care about his career. He went to Germany for a fight against Siarhei Liakhovich, who had been a world champion, and lost after a hard-fought nine rounds. He then went to Australia and lost again, this time to aging former rugby player Kali Meehan. Quinn then returned to Nicaragua for a couple easy fights to get his confidence back up. He won those, but they were nothing to brag about. Even if you couldn’t see ahead to the argument with Sambola and the abrupt turn Quinn’s life would take, the arc of his career was already taking shape.

      Quinn getting into a scuffle with Siarhei Liakhovich at a pre-fight press conference. Don King can be seen in the background. Photos via Boxing Scene

      No matter his record as a boxer, in Bluefields Quinn was a towering figure. There are an endless amount of stories about him from back in the day, like the time he convinced several young men to help him clean the streets and churches of Pearl Lagoon, a small village north of Bluefields.

      “We was cleaning the streets, cleaning the church, and cleaning the schools because cleanliness is godliness, know what I’m saying?” Quinn told me from the notorious La Modelo prison outside of Managua, where he has 16 years to go on his murder sentence.

      “Evans would walk down the street, point at some guy, and say, ‘You got to help us clean.’ And the guy would do it!” Hamilton said. “And when the people were cleaning, Evans would read to them from a Bible, like he was a preacher.”

      A less fun story comes from the time an officer in the navy told him to stop smoking weed in public. This is how Quinn tells it:

      “I was smoking my joint, sitting down the wharf and there was nobody there. I was just chillin’… A guy come and tell me to out my joint. And I tell him that I cannot do that because it’s the joint I got right now. And when I finish I will out it, but I just can’t out it now.”

      When the officer insisted, Quinn yanked the AK-47 out of his hands, pointed it at him, took the gun home, and calmly waited for the Navy and police to come. He knew he’d be arrested, but at least he made his point: Evans Quinn does what Evans Quinn wants.

      That incident was one of a series of clashes with the cops. In 2008, Quinn and his father were accused of being involved in a plan to bust two Colombian drug traffickers out of jail and kill the prosecutor of the case. The story got some media attention, and he told me the police questioned him, but Quinn denied all involvement in the matter and the charges were dropped. Nonetheless, local police felt that the Quinn clan, and Evans in particular, was up to no good. He was earning a reputation as a troublemaker in Bluefields, even as he was becoming more and more famous in international boxing circles.

      His fight against Seth Mitchell in May 2011 was supposed to be an even match between two rising boxers. But in the first round, after a few hard jabs by Mitchell, Quinn fell to his knees. The punches didn’t seem particularly brutal, but Quinn just kneeled there, staring at the canvas under him. At the count of eight, Quinn shook his head “no.”

      Nine. Ten. And that was it.

      “No effort, whatsoever. None,” said the Showtime announcer. “Evans Quinn teased us… Clearly, it looked like he could have got up. He made the decision not to get up.”

      That would be Quinn’s last professional fight. Matt Clark brought him to Australia to train, but Quinn lost interest and left after two weeks and returned to Bluefields, where the police were waiting for him.

      Quinn's last professional fight.

      Quinn’s 2011 encounter with Raul Bennett Sambola took place in retrospect seems both fated and complete happenstance. It started out innocently enough: Sambola, who had known Quinn since childhood, had run out of gas for his panga—a type of small boat that many people in the area use to navigate the waterways that are often more convenient than roads. Quinn saw Sambola stranded and told me he offered to loan him enough gas for a full tank, about $100 worth.

      Soon afterward, Quinn came to collect his money. But Sambola said he owed him much less than what Quinn wanted for the gas. They argued, and Sambola said he’d pay at a designated time. When that time came, however, he never showed up to meet Quinn, who said he waited for hours.

      “People need to learn respect,” Quinn said. According to him, he went to Sambola’s house, but Sambola wasn’t there, so Quinn took the motor of his boat as collateral and went to the police station. “I tell them that this guy owes me some gas and he can’t get [the engine] until he pays me what he deserves to give me,” Quinn said.

      A week or two later, Sambola saw Quinn’s younger brother Jorge at a Bluefields nightclub. Some say Sambola thought Jorge was actually Evans. Others say Sambola had a drug deal with Jorge that had gone wrong. Everyone agrees on the next part, though: Sambola took out a gun and fired several shots at Jorge, who got hit in the stomach and the testicles but still managed to jump from a second-story window and flee to safety. He survived, but he lost the testicle and his intestines were permanently damaged—to put it bluntly, he has to shit through a tube now.

      Sambola was arrested, but he was released shortly afterward on the condition that he paid for Jorge’s medical bills. Quinn was furious and went to the police station to complain, but, he told me, they brushed him off. He replied by giving them an ultimatum:

      “If you don’t lock him up, I’m gonna kill the guy.”

      Raul Bennett Sambola. Photo by Neyda Dixon

      Quinn then headed to Miami “to do some personal things,” as he put it. Three months later he called home and learned Sambola was still free, so he did what any mercurial former professional heavyweight boxer with a grudge, a violent streak, and a disregard for the law would do in his place: he called a Bluefields radio show and told the entire city that if Sambola didn’t leave, he would die.

      “I return in one month,” he told the show. “This is a warning to Raul: Bluefields is not big enough for the both of us, so you better be gone when I get there. If I see you, I will kill you!”

      Quinn returned 28 days later. The first thing he did was go down to the Bluefields police station. “So you didn’t lock him up?” he asked the police, who again ignored him.

      The next day, Quinn saw Sambola in front of a store in downtown Bluefields. They exchanged a few words and Quinn went on his way. He told me he didn’t do anything because it hadn’t been a whole month yet.

      But the next day was February 19, which made it 30 days since his radio announcement. And when he walked into Luna’s Ranch, a popular restaurant on the outskirts of the city, there was Sambola having lunch with his wife and a cousin.

      “That day, it seems like God wanted us to be there,” Quinn would tell reporters at his murder trial. He had warned the police. He warned Sambola. The way he figured it, he didn’t have a choice at that point.

      “I go up to him and I say, ‘What are you eating?’” Quinn said. “And he says he’s eating chicken. So I told him, ‘Well, you enjoy that chicken because it’s going to be your last chicken.’”

      Quinn fired eight shots; five made contact. Sambola bled to death on the way to the hospital.

      The former boxer doesn’t deny he killed Sambola (which would be ridiculous considering all of his public threats and the fact that he did the deed in a restaurant full of people), but he claims to have been forced into it by a kind of moral compass. “I feel so bad, man. But I had to kill him,” Quinn told me. According to him, it was because Sambola didn’t kill Jorge and rather left him crippled that Quinn did what he did.

      “If this guy would have killed my brother, I wouldn’t kill him—because he killed my brother, so I would give him some respect,” Quinn said. “But he left my brother all messed up with plastic and stuff inside of him. He left a load on me. So I had to move him from here, man.”

      When I visited Sambola’s mother, she showed me a framed photo of her son that she keeps on display in her living room. The entire time I talked to her, she held that photo face-forward on her lap, almost hugging it. She spoke slowly and thoughtfully about the man who killed her son.

      “He didn’t have to do that,” she said. “I understand they had problems between them, I know they were big problems. But there are many things that could have been done—he didn’t have to kill Raul.”

      Sambola's family stands over his coffin. Photo courtesy La Prensa/H. Esquivel

      After the murder, Quinn went on the run. He fled north, stopping in several villages along the way to party and drink in public, and naturally, people talked about him. The military got word of his whereabouts when he was in the village of Dakura, near the Honduran border.

      “The government surrounded me. They were creeping up, like 20 of them from the army and stuff,” he said. “I had my gun on me, these people creeping up on me, so I let go a shot. I let go six shots with an Uzi. They back off of me and I come outside and face them. I tell them, ‘I not going nowhere.’”

      According to Quinn, he told the leader of the squad sent to arrest him, “It won’t be me dying today. It be we dying today. If you’re fucking ready to die, then tell me—because I’ll decide to just kill right here!”

      Apparently, swagger backed up with an Uzi was enough to intimidate the Nicaraguan military, because they left him there. Soon afterward, some people from the village helped him flee to a tiny island a few miles off the coast, where his father kept him alive by bringing food and water to him by boat.

      When Quinn returned to the mainland, he ended up in Rama, a small city that serves as a hub connecting the country’s two coasts. He was there until one day in late April 2012 when the law caught up to him. That afternoon he was hanging out with three of his wives, two Colombians, and a 13-year-old girl who was his wife’s niece. He was also in possession of some marijuana and several pistols. All of this would be used against him in court.

      Quinn said the police learned he was in town off a tip from one of his spurned girlfriends. They surrounded him and had their guns on him quick enough that there was no opportunity for any stunts on his part. He surrendered, and the police proceeded to beat the shit out of him.

      Quinn after his arrest. Photo courtesy La Prensa/Sergio León

      Not satisfied with getting Quinn for murder, the police piled on as many charges as they could. The Colombians were arrested for being involved in drug trafficking, so the police charged Quinn with that, too. They also claimed that the presence of the women indicated that the gang was involved with human trafficking—in fact, the cops said that Quinn was in charge of the whole operation.

      “These people were part of a network that was engaged in drug trafficking and trafficking in persons—and they were led by Evans Quinn,” Ariel Enrique Miranda, the assistant prosecutor of Bluefields, told the Nicaraguan newspaper La Prensa.

      Quinn denied everything except the murder. To be fair to him, the only evidence the police had that Quinn was the head of a criminal enterprise was the testimony of one of his wives, who was also charged with involvement in organized crime and testified in exchange for a more lenient sentence. He got 17 years for the murder of Sambola and faces another 30 years for the organized crime charges—though a couple people close to Quinn told me that case will likely be dropped after complications with the two Colombians involved. (Long story short, the Nicaraguan government deported them to their home country and don’t have much of a case against Quinn without them.) However, the charges are still pending and it wouldn’t be unheard of for the Nicaraguan government to “find” new evidence. At this point, it may depend on what prosecutors feel like doing when they get around to it.

      Quinn on trial. Photo courtesy La Prensa/Sergio León

      Despite his present circumstances, Quinn still has the publicity instincts of a boxer who came up under Don King. When I asked him if he regretted killing Sambola, he told me, “If he was born again, I’d kill him again,” the exact same soundbite he had given reporters after his arrest. This time, though, it lacked the panache it once had. It sounded rehearsed.

      Quinn is now 30 years old and likely won’t be out of prison until he’s 46 if the other charges don’t stick. Even if they don’t, he’ll still be too old to box and he’s never had another job, unless you believe that stuff about him trafficking drugs and women. It’s hard to imagine what he’ll do when he gets his freedom, if he ever does, but he’s confident that killing a man in cold blood won’t be the end of his story.

      “My main focus is to fight myself out of prison. That’s my biggest fight—to fight myself out of here,” he said. “Yes, I killed somebody and I’ll take the punishment for it and I understand that jail is for everybody. I do what I supposed to do and I can’t change it. I’m here in this place locked down with nothing, man. Nothing, man. I’m sleeping on the ground, but I’m still training because I feel there’s something big coming. I can feel it. This is not the end of Evans Quinn.”

      Follow Ray on Twitter: @RayDowns

      More from Nicaragua:

      The Trickle-Down Economics of Nicaragua’s Drug Trade

      Desfila

      Nicaragua’s Human Weirdness

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      Topics: Evans Quinn, Boxing, murder, Bluefields, Nicaragua, Raul Bennett Sambola, feuds

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