John Poulos rejects “guilty” plea in murder of Bogotá DJ

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US murder suspect John Poulos appears before a district judge in Bogotá. Photo: Fiscalía

As Valentina Trespalacios’ body was being laid to rest in a cemetery on the outskirts of Bogotá, Colombia’s Medicina Legal released the autopsy report on the death of the 21-year-old DJ. According to the Institute of Legal Medicine, Trespalacios died around 9:00 am on Sunday, January 22, after being strangled. The victim had severe bruising to her face, neck, chest and abdomen. One news outlet states Trespalacios’ breast implants ruptured during the assault.

The coroner did not rule out that the victim had suffered “mechanical asphyxia” by a rope. During Poulos’ arraignment, chief prosecutor Daniel Gómez said Trespalacios had been “repeatedly beaten with Poulos’ fists” as the couple had sex. The prosecutor also confirmed that Trespalacios’ “head was sticking out of the suitcase” when found in the locality of Fontibón.

Closed circuit TV footage taken near the elevators at an AirBNB apartment in the north of city, the couple had just rented, shows Trespalacios, and murder suspect John Poulos, entering their apartment with bags, as well as Poulos’ blue suitcase in which he is accused of later disposing Trespalacios’ body.

CCTV footage shows suspect John Poulos leaving the building with the body of Trespalacios in a blue suitcase.

Video footage on the eighth floor of the Kappadocia apartments, taken shortly after Trespalacios’ death, then shows the 35-year-old Poulos waiting for an elevator with a shopping cart in which the woman’s body is believed to have been hidden, with part of the suitcase draped in a grey blanket to hide Trespalacios’ face. The video then shows Poulos in the basement of building lifting the heavy suitcase – with the grey blanket still covering the victim’s face – into the back of a VW Voyager.

Bogotá’s Metropolitan Police gathered more than 300 hours of video footage as evidence in this murder case. Among personal items recovered at the scene of the crime in the working-class neighborhood of Los Cámbulos was Trespalacios’ Universidad UNINPAHU student ID card.

Poulos rejected a “guilty” plea in the murder of the emerging DJ who counted with tens of thousands of followers on social media. Trespalacios was well-known on the local club circuit and was booked to perform internationally this year. The Texas resident is a father to three children.

Suspect John Poulos was charged late Friday in a district criminal court on one count of aggravated femicide, destruction of evidence and concealment. The suspect made his first appearance before a judge on Thursday, hours after he was deported from Panama where he had attempted to board a flight to Istanbul. Poulos had also purchased in cash a ticket in First Class from Panama to Sao Paulo to elude authorities.

Poulos slipped out of Colombia late Sunday afternoon, almost two hours after dumping the suitcase at the bottom of a garbage container. Trespalacios’ body was discovered inside the suitcase by a homeless man searching through the garbage. The victim’s cellphone was recovered at Bogotá’s El Dorado International Airport. Bogotá’s Metropolitan Police says CCTV cameras captured Poulos “relaxed inside the airport.”

Bogotá Police Chief Brigadier General Carlos Triana had offered a cash reward of COP$22 million (US$4,500) for information that could “clarify the crime.” After Colombia issued an international arrest warrant, General Triana flew to Panama’s Tocumen Airport, with the country’s head of Interpol, to bring the suspect back to Colombia.

A mugshot taken by Panama’s National Migration Service shows a large scratch mark on Poulos’ left side of his face.

The arraignment will continue on Tuesday given that Poulos does not speak Spanish, and his defense affirms that the suspect’s right to fair representation has been affected by bad legal translation, and fact that the magistrate’s English is deficient. The lawyer representing the Trespalacios family, Miguel Angel del Río, agreed “more rigor was needed in the translation.” If convicted, Poulos faces a sentence between 40 and 50 years in a Colombian prison.

Social media picture of John Poulos and Valentina Trespalacios. Photo: facebook