Peru police say evidence mounts against Dutchman Joran van der Sloot

Unlike 2005 in Aruba, Peru's investigative police say evidence is piling up against Joran van der Sloot for the killing of Stephany Flores. But will he face murder or robbery charges?

By , Correspondent

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    Joran Van der Sloot (c.) of the Netherlands is escorted by Peruvian police officers at the police headquarters in Lima June 5.
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Joran van der Sloot – the young Dutchman in connection to the disappearance of Alabama teen Natalee Holloway in Aruba arrested five years ago – is again behind bars, this time in Lima, Peru, where he is the prime suspect in the murder of Stephany Flores Ramirez.

In 2005, Mr. van der Sloot admitted to knowing Ms. Holloway and spending time with her, but said he had no idea what happened to her the day she went missing. He was arrested and released (twice) for lack of evidence. Holloway has never been found.

This time, though, the circumstances are much different.

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Peru's investigative police say there is plenty of evidence against van der Sloot, and few observers expect him to be set free anytime soon.

Evidence stacks up

Since the discovery of Flores' body on June 2, police here have released surveillance footage of her entering the hotel where she was killed with van der Sloot. There is also video footage and testimony from witnesses who saw the two together at a local casino and in the Hotel Tac. A detective on the case says that there is physical evidence, including blood and finger prints, which point to van der Sloot as the culprit.

Under Peruvian law, police can hold Van der Sloot seven days, starting from June 5, when he was brought back to Peru from neighboring Chile. He left Peru the same day that Flores was murdered.

Authorities will also use this week to decide what the official charges will be in the case against van der Sloot, which in term will determine the scope of a future trial.

Murder or robbery charges?

If convicted of murder, van der Sloot could face anywhere from 15 to 35 years in prison. The maximum sentence would be based any a prior record and the circumstances of the murder. The average murder trial in Peru takes two years from arrest to verdict.

Luis Lamas Puccio, a leading criminal lawyer in Peru, says the fact that van der Sloot fled Peru would act as a major strike against him if he is tried and found guilty of murder. "He could be looking at the maximum sentence given the circumstances of the case," he said.

There is a possibility, however, that authorities could charge van der Sloot with aggravated robbery instead of murder. Aggravated robbery is used in cases when robbery is the motive, but the perpetrator kills the victim in the act. This crime carries a life sentence.

Police are investigating claims from Flores' friends that she had won around $1,000 playing poker in a local casino where she met van der Sloot on May 29. They left the casino together around daybreak the next morning. Another lead involves money that Flores supposedly had with her to buy a new computer.

The police did not find any money with her, which has sparked speculation in the media that van der Sloot killed her for the cash.

The US attorney for the Northern District of Alabama charged van der Sloot with trying to extort $250,000 from Holloway's family in exchange for disclosing the location of her body. Charges of extortion and wire fraud were filed on June 3, the day van der Sloot was detained in Chile. Prosecutors say $15,000 was transferred to from a Birmingham bank to a bank account in his name in the Netherlands.

Lamas Puccio says that the case could grow complicated for the prosecutor if the decision is made to charge van der Sloot with aggravated robbery. "This involves speculating about motive. It is more difficult to demonstrate," he says.

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