On the first day of his trial in Lima yesterday, alleged murderer Joran van der Sloot hinted that he will plead guilty to killing a young Peruvian woman.
“I want to give a sincere confession, but I don’t agree with the aggravated factors the prosecutor is putting on me,” said the 24-year-old Dutch citizen. “Can I have more time to think about this?”
The judge agreed and the trial is due to resume on Jan. 11.
Van der Sloot’s suggestion that he might plead guilty came a year and seven months after he was arrested in neighboring Chile after allegedly murdering a young Peruvian woman, Stephany Flores.
Van der Sloot yawned constantly during the opening statements of his trial for murder in a Lima courtroom. He slouched in his chair, clutching a crumpled charcoal blazer in his arms, and kept fidgeting. The judge, Victoria T. Montoya, reprimanded him and ordered him to compose himself.
It was an odd start to the trial of a young man who has inspired hatred around the world, and adoration among a surprising number of women—even though he is accused of murdering one young woman and is suspected by many of killing another, American teenager Natalee Holloway. Van der Sloot has received fan mail from women during his time in jail in Peru, and a doctor from Florida has styled herself as his guardian angel and mentor.
“My client asked for a time of reflection,” Jose Luis Jimenez, Van der Sloot’s attorney told the Daily Beast later. “He’s considering the possibility of giving a sincere confession, accepting the homicide charges and this in turn, may bring about a reduction of his sentence.”
The trial may last anywhere from a week to a year, depending on how Van der Sloot ultimately pleads. Besides aggravated homicide, he is also charged with petty theft, for allegedly stealing Flores’ car, credit cards and cash. The prosecutor is seeking a sentence of 30 years in prison and a fine of $74,000.
Flores, the 21-year-old daughter of a Peruvian businessman, became acquainted with Van der Sloot at one of the city’s largest casinos in late May 2010. Flores’ body was found battered to death and decomposed in Van der Sloot’s cheap hotel room after he had fled to Chile. He was arrested eleven days later and was extradited to Peru.
The arrest brought to an end something of a global odyssey for Van der Sloot, who was the last person to be seen with Natalee Holloway on May 30, 2005, on the Caribbean island of Aruba, where he lived and where she was on vacation. Van der Sloot has told people privately, one of whom secretly filmed him, that he was involved in Holloway’s death. But because her body has never been found, and because he has continued to deny knowing what happened to her, he has never been charged with her murder.
“No matter how much time he is sentenced to, be it 1, 10, 20 or 50 years,” he said, “it will not return my daughter to me.”
There is a widely held belief in Peru that Van der Sloot is guilty of killing Flores and in this case there is a body, and a confession. He may have few options other than to plead guilty. A videotape of his confession leaked to the local press shows the investigating prosecutor interrogating Van der Sloot with his responses in broken but intelligible Spanish. At one point the prosecutor asks: “Did you kill Stephany Flores?” Van der Sloot replies: “Yes.” Then the prosecutor repeats the question: “So you did kill Stephany Flores?” Van der Sloot again says: “Yes.”
The proceedings yesterday lasted just over an hour. As he listened to the prosecutor read the charges, Van der Sloot nodded and shook his head at different moments.
Over 70 journalists attended the first day of the trial. Stephany Flores’s older brother Enrique and father Ricardo arrived to face the sea of correspondents. Watery eyed and visibly upset, Ricardo Flores shielded himself behind dark sunglasses. “No matter how much time he is sentenced to, be it 1, 10, 20 or 50 years,” he said, “it will not return my daughter to me.”