Murder suspect John Poulos claims “legal rights not facilitated”

Murder suspect John Poulos appears in Bogotá's criminal court. Photo: Fiscalía.

The arraignment hearing of John Poulos, the only suspect in the murder of the 21-year-old Bogotá DJ, Valentina Trespalacios, is facing obstacles after the court’s official translator was forced to resign over her deficient use of the English language, and claims by Poulos that his due process is not being facilitated by Colombia’s legal system.

“I warn those who come to Colombia that rights are not facilitated” stated the accused before the 59th municipal judge of Bogotá. Poulos’ affirmation that the legal system has “not respected the rights that they told me I had” was followed by the resignation of his defense lawyer Martín Riascos as a result of constant death threats.

The 35-year-old Wisconsin native was arrested in Panama and deported to Colombia to face one count of femicide, as well as obstruction and concealment of evidence. The father of three children claims that the court has not facilitated communication with a trusted lawyer in Bogotá. “The fact that Poulos has not been able to find a trustworthy defense attorney for whatever reasons, either financial, or because he did not find a bilingual lawyer – an implausible situation – the State has guaranteed his technical defense through the public defender’s office,” emphasized the judge.

Defense attorney Juan Manuel Falla has been assigned to the Poulos case after the resignation of Riascos. The accused rejected last week a “guilty” plea that could have significantly reduced his prison sentence.

Trespalacios, died on Sunday morning, January 22, after being strangled in the Kappadocia apartment building, the US citizen had rented in Bogotá’s north. Poulos and Trespalacios had co-signed a rental agreement that was to expire the day after the performer was murdered.

Prosecutor Daniel Gómez told the judge that Poulos violently beat the young woman with his “bare fists”. Poulos met Trespalacios on the dating app Tinder.

The suspect made his first appearance before a judge last Thursday, hours after he was detained by Panama’s Migration Service while boarding a flight to Istanbul, Turkey. Poulos was heading to Montenegro, the small Balkan country that does not have extradition agreements with the US or Colombia. Poulos had attempted to evade authorities by purchasing in cash a first class ticket from Panama to Sao Paulo, Brazil.

According to testimonies by Trespalacios’ female friends, Poulos, was “extremely jealous” to the point that he hired a private investigator to track the movements of his girlfriend to clubs and private parties. Poulos left Colombia on Sunday afternoon, hours after dumping his blue suitcase in garbage container near the airport. The body of the victim was discovered inside the suitcase by a homeless man. The victim’s cellphone was also recovered inside Bogotá’s El Dorado International Airport.

With a slate of linguistic inconsistencies to his defense, and arraignment that should have been decided last Thursday, Poulos, once again, will appear in a Bogotá court on Wednesday. Should attorney Falla argue that his client’s rights have not been violated, the only suspect arrested in the Trespalacios murder could be released under Colombian law.