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Joran van der Sloot hints he'll plead guilty

Joran Van der Sloot attends his murder trial held at the San Jorge prison in Lima, Peru, Friday Jan. 6, 2012. Van der Sloot, 24, stands trial Friday for the 2010 murder of the 21-year-old Stephany Flores, of Peru, nearly seven years after he became the prime suspect in the unsolved disappearance of an American teenager on holiday in Aruba. Joran Van der Sloot attends his murder trial held at the San Jorge prison in Lima, Peru, Friday Jan. 6, 2012. Van der Sloot, 24, stands trial Friday for the 2010 murder of the 21-year-old Stephany Flores, of Peru, nearly seven years after he became the prime suspect in the unsolved disappearance of an American teenager on holiday in Aruba. (AP Photo/Karel Navarro)
By Frank Bajak
Associated Press / January 6, 2012
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LIMA, Peru—Joran van der Sloot appears ready to accept responsibility for the killing of a Peruvian woman five years to the day after the disappearance in Aruba of U.S. teen Natalee Holloway, for which he remains the prime suspect.

The Dutch citizen sought and received more time to decide how to plead as his trial opened Friday in the May 30, 2010, murder of 21-year-old Stephany Flores, whom he met at a Lima casino.

He said he was inclined to confess but doesn't accept the aggravated murder charges the prosecution seeks.

The presiding magistrate of the three-judge panel, Victoria Montoya, said the trial would resume Jan. 11.

When asked moments earlier by Montoya to enter a plea, Van der Sloot answered in Spanish:

"I want to give a sincere confession but I don't agree with all the aggravating factors the prosecutor is putting on me. Can I have more time to think about this?"

The 24-year-old Dutch citizen had repeatedly shaken his head as the prosecutor described for the judges how Van der Sloot allegedly "brutally" beat and strangled the victim in his Lima hotel room, intending to rob her.

Van der Sloot long ago admitted to police that he killed Flores, a business administration student.

But he claimed in that confession that it was in a fit of rage after she discovered on his laptop Van der Sloot's connection to Holloway's disappearance on Aruba, the Caribbean island where he was raised. Police forensic experts have disputed that version of events.

Defense attorney Jose Luis Jimenez told The Associated Press before the hearing that there was a 70 percent chance Van der Sloot would plead guilty, which could help him get a reduced sentence.

Prosecutors are seeking a 30-year prison sentence on murder and theft charges, arguing the killing was premeditated and that Van der Sloot attempted to cover it up, fleeing to Chile, where he was captured days later.

Jimenez contends his client was in a state of emotional distress when he killed Flores and would "seek to reduce the charge from first-degree murder to manslaughter," which carries a prison sentence of from eight to 20 years.

"He has accepted the murder," Jimenez said after the hearing, but not with the "aggravating factors of cruelty and ferocity."

If he pleads guilty at next Wednesday's hearing, the three judges will have 48 hours to sentence him, court officials say.

Van der Sloot entered the courtroom in Lurigancho prison in Lima on Friday morning in a blue blazer and faded blue jeans with a bulletproof vest beneath the jacket. He sported a crew cut and wore an untucked long-sleeved button-down gray shirt.

He took off the vest in the courtroom, which lacked air conditioning, and fidgeted, yawning several times and slouching in his chair while attorneys for both sides discussed new evidence and witnesses they were entering in the record.

The impatient behavior drew Judge Montoya's reproach.

"Sit up straight and show some respect for the court," she told him.

Prosecutor Jose Santiesteban said he would prove if the case goes to trial that Van der Sloot "brutally attacked the victim, with cruelty in different parts of her body."

"He strangled her with his own hands," he said.

He said Van der Sloot then left the hotel room and, to hide the crime, bought two cups of coffee across the street, asking a hotel employee to open his room when he returned.

He said Van der Sloot later left the room with 800 Peruvian soles (more than $200) in cash and the victim's credit cards.

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.

Flores' father, Ricardo Flores, told the AP that he has no doubt that Van der Sloot preyed on his daughter because he was hard up for money and had learned she had just won $10,000 at the casino where they had met while playing poker.

He said casino employees and two of his daughter's friends were prepared to testify to that effect and that casino video showed Stephany Flores cashing in chips in exchange for the $10,000.

Video taken at the casino also show Van der Sloot leaving with Flores in the wee hours of May 30, 2010, and closed-circuit video taken at the defendant's hotel shows the two entering together and Van der Sloot leaving alone hours later, bags packed.

"I think it's good for the family if this concludes rapidly," Ricardo Flores, a circus promoter and former race car driver, told the AP.

The family's lawyer, Edwar Alvarez, had argued for life in prison for Van der Sloot, saying the defendant robbed the victim as well as her car, which he abandoned south of Lima as he fled to Chile.

Stephany Flores was killed five years to the day after the disappearance of Holloway, a 19-year-old from Mountain Brook, Alabama, who was celebrating her high school graduation on Aruba and was seen leaving a nightclub with Van der Sloot.

Holloway's body has never been found.

Ironically, Van der Sloot's trip to Lima may have been funded by continued fallout from that case.

U.S. officials, who indicted him on extortion and fraud charges just days after the Flores killing, say Van der Sloot had just extorted $25,000 from Holloway's mother, Beth Holloway Twitty, by offering to lead her attorney to Holloway's body in Aruba.

They say that after meeting with the attorney there, without delivering on his offer, he flew to Lima on May 14, 2010, two weeks before Flores' death.

Van der Sloot has told several people he was involved in Holloway's disappearance, only to later deny it.

Ricardo Flores said he doesn't think Van der Sloot is at all contrite over his daughter's death and wants to see the defendant placed in conditions of greater deprivation.

That could include being extradited to the United States to stand trial there once he's been sentenced in Peru.

Unconfirmed reports denied by prison authorities have said Van der Sloot lives in relative comfort. He is isolated from the general population in the high-security Castro Castro prison.

Neither the mother of the victim nor that of the defendant attended Friday's hearing.

Van der Sloot's lawyer said his client's mother, Anita, did not want the media attention. The defendant's father, a prominent lawyer, died of a heart attack at age 57 in February 2010.

Ricardo Flores, lighting one cigarette after another, said his wife had wanted to get on a flight back from the United States for the hearing but was dissuaded by family members.

"If it's difficult for me," he said, "you can imagine how it is for her."

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Associated Press writers Franklin Briceno and Carla Salazar contributed to this report

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Frank Bajak on Twitter: http://twitter.com/fbajak

(This version CORRECTS spelling of attorney Alvarez's surname to 'Edwar'.)

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