Dutch murder suspect keeps mum after retracting confession

21st June 2010, Comments 0 comments

The Dutch suspect in last month's killing of a young woman in Lima refused to answer a Peruvian judge's questions Monday after his lawyer claimed a confession to the crime was made under duress.

Joran van der Sloot "made no statement before the judge" who questioned him at the maximum-security Miguel Castro Castro prison, his Peruvian attorney Maximo Altez told AFP.

Altez said he was awaiting the outcome of the habeas corpus petition to release van der Sloot and allow him to challenge the charges. The defense has called for the proceedings to be suspended until a decision is reached.

A longtime prime suspect in the 2005 disappearance of American teenager Natalee Holloway in Aruba, van der Sloot confessed earlier this month to killing 21-year-old Stephany Flores, who was found beaten to death in his Lima hotel room.

But in an interview with the Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf, van der Sloot said he signed papers admitting the crime only because police intimidated him and told him he would be extradited to the Netherlands if he confessed.

"In my total panic, I signed the papers even though I didn't understand what was written on them," the 22-year-old said. "During the interview, I was horribly afraid and I felt increasingly depressed. I just wanted to leave."

He met both women in casinos and Flores was killed exactly five years after Holloway's disappearance, a case that has attracted huge attention in the United States, Europe and the Caribbean.

The judicial proceedings at the prison took place behind closed doors and were also attended by a court clerk, prosecutors and Altez, the defense attorney.

A court statement confirmed that van der Sloot "would not make a statement" and was awaiting the decision on his habeas corpus petition which seeks "to invalidate statements before the police because, he said, they would compromise his right of defense."

Defense attorney Altez said van der Sloot avoided responding to Judge Carlos Morales's questions in a bid to invalidate the police investigation.

"Adequate proceedings were violated because no lawyer was present (during the interrogation), his computer was searched without a warrant, among other things," Altez said earlier.

But police officials say their interrogation was conducted in accordance with established standards, in the presence of a prosecutor and a government-appointed attorney.

In quotes released by Peruvian authorities, van der Sloot said he was motivated to kill Flores, the daughter of a prominent Peruvian entrepreneur, after she used his laptop without his permission and saw information linking him to the Holloway case.

"How all this happened, I will say later. My lawyer is interested in the first place in all the procedural errors that have taken place," van der Sloot told De Telegraaf.

He has been charged with first-degree murder in the Flores case, along with aggravated robbery for allegedly taking more than 10,000 dollars of gambling money from Flores.

"She had no right" to see the computer, he said, according to police. "I approached her, she was frightened. We discussed it and she tried to escape. I grabbed her by the neck and hit her."

Van der Sloot was twice arrested in connection with the disappearance of Holloway, who was 18 at the time. He spent three months in jail but was never charged.

Foreign attorneys are expected to arrive in Lima in July to join van der Sloot's defense team. One of the lawyers is Joseph Tacopina, who defended the Dutchman in the Holloway case.

The investigation stage of the Flores case could last three to 12 months before moving to a public trial.

The court has also sought psychological and psychiatric evaluations of van der Sloot, whose mother told De Telegraaf that her son is "sick in the head."

Van der Sloot has told Peruvian police that he knows where to find Holloway's body, and Peruvian officials said they would contact authorities in Aruba if new information surfaced.

© 2010 AFP

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