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American man sentenced to 42 years in prison for femicide of Colombian DJ

American John Poulos was sentenced on Tuesday to more than 42 years in prison by a Colombian court, after he was found guilty of aggravated femicide in the killing of a young Colombian DJ named Valentina Trespalacios, as well as crimes of concealment, alteration or destruction of evidence.

The killing occurred in Bogotá in January 2023, and has since captured public attention in Colombia. Before her death, Trespalacios was beginning to gain success at music festivals and had been in a romantic relationship with Poulos since 2021, according to accounts from her family and lawyers who took her case.

The Office of the Attorney General of Colombia said in a statement after the ruling that its prosecutors had proven that Poulos struck and suffocated his partner and tried to hide the body.

“The security camera records show that the aggressor wrapped the victim’s body, hid it in a suitcase and abandoned it in a garbage container in the town of Fontibón, in the west of Bogotá. It was found there hours later by the authorities,” the AG office said.

During Tuesday’s court proceedings, the judge considered that the evidence presented by the prosecutors was sufficient to determine Poulos’ guilt, imposing a prison sentence of 42 years and eight months – about five years less than what prosecutors had requested.

Additionally, the judge prohibited Poulos from approaching or attempting to communicate with Trespalacios’ family for 20 years, and ordered that he be expelled from Colombia once he completes his sentence.

Poulos’ defense team has said it will appeal the judgement. It had argued that Poulos was innocent of femicide and that he should instead be tried for homicide, which would carry a lesser sentence.

In Colombia, femicide — the killing of a woman because of her gender — is considered a more serious crime than homicide. Under Colombian law, femicide is often punished with a higher penalty.

Defense lawyer Fredy Spíndola told the Focus Noticias channel that he and his client believe the witnesses “were all in cahoots, that they all said the same thing.”

The victim’s legal team, meanwhile, celebrated the sentence, saying it recognizes that Trespalacios was a victim of various types of violence.

“It is a fair decision for us, which is also consistent with the material evidentiary elements, with the theory of the case that we had from the beginning. From the beginning, we established that we were facing objectification, an instrumentalization of a woman through various factors, psychological violence, violence of various types, including physical violence,” lawyer Miguel Ángel del Río told Focus Noticias.

Poulos was detained in Panama in January 2023, when he was trying to fly to Turkey. He was then deported to Colombia, where he denied the charges against him. He was sentenced almost a year and a half after Trespalacios’ death.

Del Río also pointed out that only until the conviction is made final in a second-instance appellate court will Trespalacios’ family be able to seek reparation for damages.

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