LIMA, Peru — Joran van der Sloot pleaded guilty on Wednesday to the 2010 murder of a 21-year-old Peruvian woman he met at a Lima casino who was killed five years to the day after the unsolved disappearance in Aruba of an American teen in which he remains the main suspect.
“Yes, I want to plead guilty. I wanted from the first moment to confess sincerely,” he told the panel of three judges that will decide his fate. “I truly am sorry for this act. I feel very bad.”
Prosecutors are asking for a 30-year prison sentence.
The 24-year-old Dutch citizen did not show emotion during his brief confession in fractured Spanish and did not call on the services of a Dutch translator provided for the proceeding.
He bowed his head later when his lawyer argued that he killed Stephany Flores as a result of “extreme psychological trauma” he suffered from the fallout of the 2005 disappearance on the Caribbean island of Aruba of Natalee Holloway.
Conferring privately with defense attorney Jose Jimenez before leaving the courtroom, Van der Sloot briefly smiled.
The judges have 48 hours to render a sentence and the presiding magistrate, Victoria Montoya, said it would reconvene Friday to do so.
Van der Sloot’s trial opened last week but was adjourned to Wednesday after he asked for more time to decide how to plead. He said then that he was inclined to confess but did not accept the aggravated murder charges the prosecution sought.
Van der Sloot, who wore faded jeans and an untucked light-blue button-down shirt, entered the plea in hopes of a reduced sentence.
He had confessed to the May 30, 2010, killing long ago.
Shortly afterward, he told police he killed Flores in a fit of rage after she discovered on his laptop his connection to the disappearance of Holloway. His lawyer claims the killing was manslaughter, for which the minimum sentence is 5 years.
Police forensic experts disputed that claim and the attorney for the victim’s family contends Van der Sloot killed Flores, a business student from a prominent family, in order to rob her. Prosecutors are seeking a 30-year prison sentence on first-degree murder and theft charges.
The prosecution van der Sloot killed Flores with “ferocity” and “cruelty,” beating and then strangling her in his Lima hotel room, concealing the crime and fleeing to Chile, where he was caught several days later after Flores’ rotting body was found in his hotel room.
Prosecutors say he took more than $200 in cash plus credit cards from the victim and made his initial getaway by driving her car to a different part of Lima.
The length of the sentence is completely at the judges’ discretion, said court officials and a leading Peruvian criminal attorney, Luis Lamas. The attorney for the family of the victim, Edwar Alvarez, has argued for life in prison for Van der Sloot.
“In the court record, this man has submitted to psychological examinations and they have concluded that he is a psychopathic person,” he told reporters. “What judge would give a psychopath a penal benefit?”
The victim’s father, circus impresario and former race car driver Ricardo Flores, attended the opening of the trial but not Wednesday’s hearing.
Reached by phone before Van der Sloot’s plea, he said he wasn’t watching the trial on TV but would await word from his lawyer.
“This matter hurts us,” he told The Associated Press.
Video taken at the Atlantic City Casino where the victim met Van der Sloot shows the two leaving together, and closed-circuit images from the downmarket TAC hotel shows the pair entering together and Van der Sloot leaving alone hours later, bags packed.
After strangling Flores, Van der Sloot left the hotel room and, to hide the crime, bought two cups of coffee across the street, asking a hotel employee to open his room when he returned, Prosecutor Jose Santiesteban said in the trial’s opening argument Friday.
Van der Sloot continues to be dogged by the case of Holloway, a Mountain Brook, Alabama, 19-year-old who disappeared a high school graduation trip to the Dutch Caribbean island of Aruba where Van der Sloot grew up.
She was last seen leaving a nightclub with him. Her body has never been found.
The case received a storm of media attention and the tall, garrulous Dutchman became a staple of true-crime TV shows, in several interviews describing himself as a pathological liar. In a clandestinely taped conversation, he was shown telling a Dutch TV reporter he was involved in Holloway’s disappearance.
Van der Sloot’s trip to Lima may have been funded by continued fallout from that case.
U.S. officials, who indicted him on extortion and fraud charges just days after the Flores killing, say Van der Sloot had just extorted $25,000 from Holloway’s mother, Beth Holloway Twitty, by offering to lead her attorney to Holloway’s body in Aruba.
They say that after meeting with the attorney there, without delivering on his offer, he flew to Lima on May 14, 2010, two weeks before Flores’ death.
Ricardo Flores said he doesn’t think Van der Sloot is at all contrite over his daughter’s death and wants to see the defendant placed in conditions of greater deprivation.
That could include being extradited to the United States to stand trial there once he’s been sentenced in Peru.
Peru’s Foreign Ministry says it has no U.S. extradition request for Van der Sloot.
U.S. authorities have requested his arrest through Interpol “should he be released on the charges there” so he could be brought to Birmingham, Alabama, for trial, said Peggy Sanford, a spokeswoman the U.S. Attorney’s office there.
No members of Van der Sloot’s family have attended the trial.
His lawyer said his client’s mother, Anita, did not want the media attention. The defendant’s father, a prominent lawyer, died of a heart attack at age 57 in February 2010.