LIMA, Peru – Joran van der Sloot goes on trial in the murder of a young Peruvian woman Friday, nearly seven years after he became the prime suspect in the unsolved disappearance of an American teenager on holiday in Aruba.
Van der Sloot, 24, is charged with killing 21-year-old Stephany Flores in his Lima hotel room on May 30, 2010, after the two left a casino together in the day's wee hours.
The slaying happened five years to the day after the disappearance of Natalee Holloway, a 19-year-old from Alabama who was celebrating her high school graduation on the Dutch Caribbean island of Aruba and was seen leaving a nightclub with Van der Sloot. Her body has never been found.
Authorities say Van der Sloot confessed to killing Flores, claiming he became enraged after she discovered his connection to Holloway.
His attorney says the confession should be voided because the defense lawyer present when he made it was state-appointed and no official translator was present.
Police and Flores' family dispute Van der Sloot's version of her death that the defendant was hard up for cash and knew the Peruvian business student had been winning at the casino.
Prosecutors are seeking a 30-year prison sentence for Van der Sloot on murder and theft charges in a trial that will be held at Lima's Lurigancho prison. He is accused of murdering Flores with "ferocity and great cruelty," and prosecutors say he also stole 600 soles, about $220, from the victim.
The handsome, garrulous Dutchman, a staple of true-crime TV shows for years after Holloway's disappearance, has in several interviews described himself as a pathological liar. He's been in custody after his arrest in neighboring Chile just days after Flores' death.
Van der Sloot shares a cell with a Mexican and a Chinese inmate at the maximum security Miguel Castro Castro prison, separated from convicted prisoners, said his lawyer, Jose Luis Jimenez.
He said Van der Sloot spends his days making crafts and reading self-help books.
"His mood is super good," Jimenez said during a telephone interview Wednesday.
The defendant has granted several jailhouse interviews to media and was confronted there in September 2010 by Holloway's mother, Beth Holloway Twitty, when she accompanied a Dutch television crew. Her lawyer, John Kelly, said at the time that she was determined to get answers about her daughter.
The Associated Press reached Twitty by telephone on Thursday and she had said she no comment on the trial or whether she feels any closer to knowing her daughter's fate.
Van der Sloot has told several people he was involved in Holloway's disappearance, only to later deny it.
U.S. law enforcement officials say he extorted $25,000 from Twitty after offering to lead Kelly to Holloway's body in Aruba, using the money to fly to Lima on May 14, 2010, just days after meeting with Kelly.
The defense will argue that Van der Sloot killed Flores in a state of emotional distress.
"We will challenge the aggravating factors (charged by the prosecution) and seek to reduce the charge from first-degree murder to simple homicide," Jimenez said. That charge carries a prison sentence of from eight to 20 years.
He said his client, whose prominent lawyer father died of a heart attack on an Aruba tennis court in February 2010, was in a fragile state from years of being under suspicion for Holloway's presumed death and other legal problems stemming from that case.
"The killing was impromptu. There was no planning to carry it out," Jimenez said.
Lawyers for Flores' family, who are allowed to participate in the trial under Peruvian law, will try to show that Van der Sloot killed the woman to steal money she won at the casino.
If the court finds that to be true, a conviction could result in Van der Sloot being sentenced to life in prison.
"This guy wanted to take the money of the girl because he, in communications he had with his friends in Holland through Facebook and email, stated that he had no money, that he had no money or food, that his stay in Peru was hard and he told them: 'I am on the verge of prostitution,"' family lawyer Edward Alvarez said in an interview.
Alvarez predicted Van der Sloot would plead guilty Friday in an effort to get a reduced sentence.
Jimenez, the defense attorney, ruled out that possibility.
He said that would require his client to make a confession that accepted all the charges alleged by the prosecution.
The lawyer didn't dispute that Van der Sloot confessed to the killing, but he said the Dutchman's rudimentary Spanish didn't allow him to respond properly during his interrogation.
Van der Sloot met Flores, the daughter of a circus promoter and former race car driver, at the Atlantic Casino in Lima.
Video from casino cameras show the two playing at the same table, then leaving together.
In his confession, Van der Sloot said they planned to play Internet poker at the down-market TAC Hotel where he was staying.
He said in his confession that while they were playing, his computer received an instant message on his links to the Holloway case. He said Flores then struck him, and he became enraged and strangled her.
Hotel video shows Van der Sloot entering the hotel with Flores then leaving alone a few hours later. Her body was found in the hotel room three days later.
Two days later, the Dutchman was arrested in Chile.
That same day, he was charged in Alabama with trying to extort the Holloway family in return for disclosing the location of Natalee Holloway's body.