Friday the 13th of January is in the middle of the southern hemisphere summer. The man who was about to be learn his prison sentence knew this and entered the stuffy courtroom in a short-sleeve green t-shirt. The last couple of times he had appeared in court, he had made the mistake of putting on long-sleeve gray and green shirts. The court had installed additional fans after the first day of the trial, but they did not help keep down the heat in the concrete courthouse. And, despite his clothing, Joran van der Sloot began perspiring profusely. He wiped the sweat from his close-cropped crew cut and his blond, scruffy beard. When his shirt was soaked, he asked for water.
Friday the 13th topped off the unluckiest of weeks for the Dutchman. On Wednesday, he pleaded guilty to the murder of Stephany Flores, a 21-year old Peruvian woman. On Thursday, an Alabama judge signed a court order declaring legally dead Natalee Holloway, a young American who vanished in Aruba in 2005. Van der Sloot has been the chief suspect in that disappearance. (Flores was murdered and Holloway disappeared on the same day, May 30, five years apart.) In Lima on Friday, van der Sloot, 24, was sentenced to 28 years in prison and ordered to pay nearly $75,000 in fines for first-degree murder and robbery in the Flores case. The sentence was two years below what the prosecution demanded. He is eligible for parole after one-third of the sentence is served, which means that Van der Sloot will be able to ask for a conditional release in slightly more than nine years.
The punishment was not enough to satisfy a small group of protesters outside the Lurigancho prison, in eastern Lima, where Van der Sloot's three-day trial was held. As the prisoner was transported to the courthouse in a van, they held up handmade signs calling van der Sloot the devil and demanding a life sentence for the Dutchman. "He is a psychopath and needs to stay in jail forever. He will never reform and will kill again. He is pure evil," said Eric Neyra.
Van der Sloot entered the court 10 minutes before the 10:00 a.m. start time. The judges arrived 40 minutes later. The sentence was read in Spanish with a Dutch translator interpreting simultaneously for Van der Sloot for close to two hours. The Dutchman interrupted the reading after five minutes, telling the court that he did not have to hear all the case numbers and details in the declaration. Lead Judge Victoria Montoya said he had no choice but to listen to the description of the murder.
Van der Sloot initially stood while the sentence was read, looking at the court reporter. He did not smile, but twitched his face and blinked as the case notes were read. He began swaying somewhat 15 minutes into the oral presentation and the judge let him sit down after 30 minutes. He kept his head down most of the time, not looking at Montoya and the two other female judges who sat on a raised platform, behind a long table draped with red bunting, a Bible and large crucifix in the center.
The court reporter read off the page numbers of all the police reports so that they could be entered into the official court log. This was followed by a detailed description of how Van der Sloot and Flores met and what transpired in the Hotel Tac, where Flores died, as reconstructed by forensic investigators. (Van der Sloot has never given his version of the events.) This was followed by a lengthy description of Van der Sloot's overland escape to Chile, more than 600 miles to the south, in a taxi, He was arrested quickly in Chile and expelled to Peru, where he has been in prison since June 10, 2010. (The three men who drove him to Chile, two brothers and a friend of theirs, are also standing trial. They have been charged with cover-up and face five years in prisons. They entered innocent pleas on Wednesday.)
He shook his head slightly when the court reporter mentioned the Holloway case. He did not move when the reporter read from documents stating that he did not present indications of psychosis or other mental problems.
Van der Sloot admitted to killing Flores in his hotel room in Lima's upscale Miraflores neighborhood early in morning of May 30, 2010. The two had met the previous night at a poker tournament in a nearby casino. She accompanied Van der Sloot back to the hotel, according to the prosecution, so they could continue gaming on-line. They fought after Flores received a message telling her about van der Sloot's involvement in Holloway's death.
On Wednesday, he accepted the state's charge of first-degree murder and robbery. "I have offered my sincere confession from the beginning. I am truly sorry for what I have done. I feel very bad," he told Judge Montoya in Spanish. Van der Sloot's lawyer, José Luis Jiménez, had asked the court for leniency. He said that Van der Sloot had been suffering post-traumatic stress disorder due to the anniversary of the Holloway case and all the media attention that followed him. He said this explained Flores' murder.
With the sentencing complete, Van der Sloot returns to Lima's maximum-security Miguel Castro Castro prison, where he has been held since June 2010. The prison houses some of the country's major drug traffickers and long-imprisoned members of the Shining Path terrorist group. The young Dutchman is imprisoned is a special section of Castro Castro with only a handful of individual cells. He has asked to be transferred to the general population of the prison where he would have much greater freedom of movement and also greater opportunity to work and study, things he will have to do to qualify for parole.