Van der Sloot taken to prison on murder charge

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 12, 2010

LIMA, Peru (AP) — Angry Peruvian onlookers shouted “Disgrace!” and “Murderer” at Joran van der Sloot on Friday after a judge ordered him jailed on first-degree murder and robbery charges in the violent killing of a 21-year-old Lima woman.

Prosecutors said the Dutchman, who was taken to a segregated block of an eastern Lima prison, acted with “ferocity and great cruelty” in killing business student Stephany Flores in his hotel room after they met playing poker.

Van der Sloot remains the lone suspect in the 2005 disappearance of U.S. teen Natalee Holloway on the Caribbean resort island of Aruba, and Peru’s criminal police chief says the defendant told interrogators he knows where her body is.

Aruba’s attorney general, Taco Stein, told The Associated Press on Friday he is skeptical Van der Sloot was telling the truth about Holloway’s body. He said Aruban officials will decide whether to sent investigators to Peru to question him once they learn exactly what he is offering.

Lima Superior Court Judge Juan Buendia issued a detention order before dawn for Van der Sloot on the murder charge. He was first taken with other prisoners in an armored truck to Lima’s judicial palace, then alone to the maximum-security Castro Castro prison.

Police manhandled Van der Sloot as they ushered him to the judicial palace, a scarf around his neck and his hands cuffed behind him.

The more virulent catcalls and bile — the sensational case has dominated Peru’s news for a week — came from onlookers as he was taken from the prosecutor’s office where he had been held since Thursday. One onlooker threw spoiled lettuce.

Police say Van der Sloot brutally murdered Flores three days after meeting her at a casino. He broke her nose, strangled her, threw her to the floor then emptied her wallet and drove away in her SUV, said Gen. Cesar Guardia, chief of the criminal police.

The 6-foot-3 (190-centimeter-tall) Van der Sloot took about $300 worth of Peruvian currency, two credit cards and Flores’ national ID card, Guardia said. He said the suspect abandoned her car in a lower-class Lima neighborhood before fleeing south to Chile by bus.

If convicted on the murder and robbery charges, Van der Sloot would be sentenced to between 15 and 35 years in prison, court spokesman Luis Gallardo told the AP.

“The aggravating factors are having acted with ferocity and great cruelty,” said a news release issued by the court that announced the charges.

At Castro Castro prison, Van der Sloot was fed the Peruvian chicken dish “seco de pollo,” prisons director Ruben Rodriguez said. The Dutchman will have his own cell in a small block near the director’s office.

The only other two prisoners on the block are a reputed Colombian hit man charged with strangling a Peruvian socialite and a provincial mayor charged with laundering drug money

It was not yet known when the trial might begin. A judge must first be assigned to hear the case.

Flores was killed three days after meeting Van der Sloot, police say, and five years to the day after Holloway disappeared. Guardia said “a wealth of evidence” against the Dutchman includes closed-circuit video tracking him leaving the casino with Flores, entering his room with the woman and then leaving alone.

The police chief told the AP on Thursday night that when Van der Sloot confessed to killing Flores investigators asked him about the Holloway case.

“He let slip that he knew the place where this person was buried,” Guardia said.

The general said the Dutchman told investigators “he would only testify (on the matter) before Aruba authorities.”

He said he didn’t know how seriously to take Van der Sloot’s comment given his history of dubious statements the Alabama teen’s disappearance.

Stein, the Aruba attorney general, was cautious about the development.

“I’m not getting my hopes up,” he told the AP. “Let’s face it, he has been telling us many stories many times before.”

Stein said that even if Van der Sloot did reveal what happened to Holloway, there was no guarantee her remains would be found.

Guardia said Van der Sloot confessed that he killed Flores, the daughter of a circus promoter and former race car driver, because she found out about the Aruba case by using his laptop without his permission.

Van der Sloot’s newly hired Peruvian attorney, Maximo Altez, has asked the judge to declare his client’s Monday confession void on the grounds it was made in the presence of a defense lawyer appointed by police.

Reached by the AP, Altez refused to discuss the case. He said Van der Sloot’s schoolteacher mother, Anita, would be arriving early next week with the family’s own media adviser.

The young man’s father, a lawyer on Aruba, a Dutch territory, died in February while playing tennis.

Van der Sloot arrived in Peru on May 14, authorities say, four days after allegedly receiving $25,000 as part of an FBI sting aimed at resolving the Holloway case. U.S. prosecutors charged him with extortion four days after Flores was killed.

Prosecutors say the extortion case began when Van der Sloot contacted a New York lawyer for Holloway’s mother, Beth Twitty, in April seeking $250,000 in exchange for the location of the young woman’s body, how she died and the identity of those involved.

The lawyer, John Kelly, contacted the FBI, which secretly recorded video of him giving Van der Sloot $10,000 in cash in Aruba on May 10 while $15,000 was wired to a bank account in the Dutch man’s name, prosecutors say.

Van der Sloot was recorded telling Kelly he pushed Holloway down, and she hit her head on a rock and died, an affidavit says. He allegedly said his father helped him bury the body.

Van der Sloot admitted in a May 17 e-mail — he was in Peru by then — that he had lied about the location of Holloway’s remains, prosecutors say.

That fit a pattern of Van der Sloot making confessions he later retracted.

Van der Sloot was the last person seen with Holloway before the girl vanished on the last night of a high school graduation trip. He was arrested twice but released both times for a lack of evidence.