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Montenegrin convicted in 1990 killing of woman in New York; sentenced to 12 years in prison

PODGORICA, Montenegro (AP) — A Montenegro court convicted a man Friday for murdering and mutilating a woman in New York in 1990 while he was working in the city as a taxi driver.

Smail Tulja, a 69-year-old Montenegro native, was sentenced to serve 12 years in prison. He had pleaded innocent in the case, and his lawyer vowed to appeal the Higher Court's verdict.

The court's judge Dragica Vukovic said there was no doubt Tulja had killed Yugoslav immigrant Mary Beal, 61. U.S. officials had said the two dated after meeting in a courthouse, where Beal was an interpreter, but then clashed over money.

Beal's decapitated and dismembered body was found in two bags near New York's Brooklyn Navy Yard three weeks after she was reported missing on Sept. 15, 1990.

The court said Tulja had "hit Mary Beal on the head with a blunt object and then used a knife and a saw to cut her body and leave it at three different places."

Tulja was arrested in 2007 at his Montenegro home on an FBI warrant forwarded to Interpol, a year after the New York Police Department's Cold Case and Apprehension Squad learned about the similar dismemberment of two women in Albania, a country neighboring Montenegro. Using Tulja's fingperprints from a previous arrest, U.S. detectives tracked him down in Montenegro.

Tulja was immediately a suspect in Beal's killing, after detectives discovered bloodstains in his apartment in the Bronx. But he had left the United States before he could be questioned.

He was tried in Montenegro because the country's laws do not allow its citizens to be extradited.

During the two-year proceedings, Tulja acknowledged that he had known Beal but denied killing her.

Tulja's lawyer, Zeljko Jocic, argued that the evidence was inconclusive and said he would appeal.

Tulja also has been investigated in connection with the murder of five women in Belgium and at least one woman in Albania.