CRIME

Joran Van Der Sloot's Peru Murder Trial Delay 'Not Surprising,' Expert Says

01/10/2012 08:48 am ET | Updated Jan 10, 2012

Joran van der Sloot's recent request to postpone his murder trial in Peru isn't surprising and may not affect his reported plans to plead guilty, an international defense expert said.

"It is my feeling he is going to go through with the guilty plea," said Michael Griffith, senior partner at the International Legal Defense Counsel. "I don't think he is going to go to trial.

"The prosecutor presented some new information in court and I think van der Sloot felt he needed some time to put together a guilty speech to address the concerns of the prosecutor," Griffith told The Huffington Post.

"The atmosphere in court there was not conducive of a one-on-one situation like lawyers in the states are accustomed to," Griffith said. "His lawyer did not have his client next to him at a table where he could talk to him. The continuance allows them to meet privately to discuss the issues."

Van der Sloot, a longtime suspect in the disappearance of U.S. teen Natalee Holloway, is accused of first-degree murder and robbery in the May 30, 2010, slaying of Peruvian business student Stephany Flores -- exactly five years after Holloway vanished. Flores was found dead in van der Sloot's hotel room in Lima on June 2, 2010.

NATALEE HOLLOWAY CASE: (Article Continues Below)

Natalee Holloway

After van der Sloot's arrest, officials in Peru announced he had made a full confession to Flores' murder. Van der Sloot said he broke Flores' neck in a fit of rage after she used his laptop to find out about his involvement in the Holloway case, officials said. The Dutchman later retracted that confession, saying he was arrested without a warrant and was not provided with an official translator.

At the opening of van der Sloot's murder trial Friday in Peru, the prosecutor explained that he has added new witnesses, including a casino worker, who can testify about what, if any, conversations he overheard between van der Sloot and Flores, as well as three police officers, who the prosecution said will testify that van der Sloot's fingerprints were found in the hotel room and the victim's vehicle.

Following the introduction of the new witnesses, van der Sloot requested more time before entering a plea and the trial was suspended until Jan. 11.

If convicted of Flores' murder, van der Sloot faces a maximum of 30 years in prison.

"He's got a tough deal here," Griffith said. "He's got three female judges and he's got this Natalee Holloway thing in the background."

Holloway's body has never been found, and van der Sloot has never been charged in her disappearance. He was, however, indicted in the U.S. on charges that he extorted $25,000 from the Alabama teenager's parents. Prosecutors said that, in exchange for the money, he promised to reveal how Holloway died and the location of her body.

"So, I don't think there will be too much sympathy for him," Griffith continued. "The only thing that will favor him will be avoiding trial and accepting responsibility, but it is hard to say what even that will get him with three female judges -- possibly 29½ instead of 30 years."

Griffith has counseled and represented clients in more than 40 countries. His most renowned case, involving an American incarcerated in a Turkish prison, was the basis for the film and book "Midnight Express."

Regardless of what happens in Peru, Griffith said van der Sloot will eventually be extradited to the U.S. for the alleged extortion plot.

According to Griffith, the passive personality principle of international law allows a country to prosecute someone who has killed or injured an American citizen in a foreign country. In essence, jurisdiction is based on the nationality of the victim and not the location of the crime. Griffith said one example of that would be the Leon Klinghoffer case.

In 1985, Klinghoffer, 69, and his wife were celebrating their 36th wedding anniversary on the cruise ship Achille Lauro. Palestinian terrorists hijacked the liner, and Klinghoffer was murdered and thrown overboard. The hijackers were later given safe passage on a flight to Tunisia, but the U.S. Air Force intercepted the plane and forced it to land in Italy, where the suspects were taken into custody.

Griffith said van der Sloot's alleged statements about Holloway, along with his previous confessions, are enough for U.S. authorities to bring a circumstantial murder case against him.

"There is no statute of limitations," Griffith said. "So even if he serves the max, he can still go on trial in the U.S."

Whether authorities in the U.S. will invoke the passive personality principle is yet to be decided.

Regardless of what happens, the veteran defense attorney said van der Sloot won't be getting away with Flores' murder.

"He is not the sharpest pencil in the pack and he's not the quickest thinker on his feet," Griffith said.

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