US citizen John Poulos sentenced to 42 years in Colombian prison for femicide of Valentina Trespalacios

By June 10, 2024

Medellín, Colombia — A year and a half after Wisconsin-born John Poulos was arrested for the murder of  his 21-year-old Colombian partner, Valentina Trespalacios, a Bogotá judge last week found him guilty of aggravated femicide, concealment, and alteration or destruction of evidence, and sentenced him to  42 years in a Colombian prison. 

During the trial, it was determined that sufficient proof was presented by the Colombian Prosecutor’s Office to convict Poulos. Further, he will not enjoy any judicial privileges, such as house arrest or conditional freedom, and will be deported from Colombia once he has served his sentence, in 2067. 

Among the testimonies that the judge considered for the conviction was that of Laura Hidalgo, Trespalacios’ mother, who explained that her daughter “lived with constant anxiety because she had to report to Poulos.” 

“My daughter was only a 21-year-old girl who had accomplished many of her goals at a young age,” Hidalgo added.

In his defense, Poulos alleged various irregularities with his case, claiming that the Prosecutor’s Office had “accused him without evidence.” 

What happened to Valentina Trespalacios? 

Trespalacios was an up-and-coming DJ from Bogotá, Colombia who met Poulos through social media. According to Hidalgo, throughout her daughter’s eight-month relationship with the American, he began getting progressively more jealous and controlling. In fact, according to the Prosecutors’ investigation, Poulos even hired a private investigator to follow his then-partner. 

Image Source: Valentina Trespalacios Via Facebook.

Trespalacios was killed on  January 21, 2023 after having gone to a nightclub with Poulos. According to the driver who picked up the couple and drove them back to their apartment, Trespalacios showed him a note on her phone saying “Help, I am in danger,” before Poulos got in the car. The driver then asked if she was okay, after which Poulos asked if everything was alright. Trespalacios did not respond to the driver’s question.

The following day, on January 22, Trespalacios’ body was found inside a blue suitcase in a dumpster in the north-western Los Cámbulos neighborhood of Bogotá. This had been the same suitcase that surveillance cameras had recorded Poulos leaving with on the morning when Trespalacios’ body was discovered.

However, Poulos had left the country, and Colombian authorities announced a $20-million peso (USD $5,000) reward for information leading to his capture. Interpol also issued a red notice on Poulos, which eventually led to his arrest in Panama on January 25, before he was able to board a flight to Istanbul. He was then extradited to Colombia. 

Read more: Valentina Trespalacios murder suspect arrested in Panama. He says cartels are responsible

According to forensics, Trespalacios was a victim of homicide through mechanical asphyxiation. Furthermore, bruising was reported on her neck, nose and mouth, which supported the Police’s theory that Trespalacios had been beaten and strangled

Court Proceedings 

Initially, Poulos issued an unofficial statement claiming that Trespalacios had been murdered by drug cartels. He explained that he fled to Panama because his life was also in danger. However, he purchased two tickets; one to Istanbul and another to Brazil, which some have claimed was a way of misleading investigators.  

The official trial began on October 23, 2023, nine months after Trespalacios was killed. In it, Poulos and his defense attorney maintained that he had not committed femicide, nor had he planned to kill his partner. Instead, Poulos’ lawyer claimed that the American had committed culpable homicide, the reckless and unintentional killing of a person. 

Initially, Poulos refused to participate in the court proceedings, sending a note from the La Picota prison in Bogotá where he was being held. However, he then changed his mind, and began appearing at court, as requested by the judge. 

After the testimonies of the forensic doctor who completed Trespalacios’ autopsy, Hidalgo, and the police officers who found her body, the trial was postponed until February 2024.

Poulos would go on to recognize his role in Trespalacios’ death on March 6, 2024, when he stated that his ex-partner’s death was due to their routine practice of erotic asphyxiation. As reported by Noticias Caracol, a Colombian news television program, Poulos claimed that the couple engaged in sexual activity after consuming drugs and alcohol. The following day, Poulos unsuccessfully tried waking Trespalacios. “I was destroyed. I loved her. Imagine killing someone you love,” he stated. Additionally, Poulos recognized that stuffing Trespalacios’ body in a suitcase was a mistake, which he supposedly did because he was scared of Colombia’s justice system. 

Image Source: Jenny Rocio Angarita Galindo Via X.

Poulos’ trial ended last week, a year and a half after he killed the aspiring DJ. “How can they say that it was involuntary homicide? It was a homicide for domination, for control… He had a dead woman at his bedside, with bruises in her face, head and forearms. That is the only thing that made him panic, why he started planning how to escape justice. Before, however, he made sure to hide evidence and stuffed her in a suitcase,” the judge stated

Femicide Crisis in Colombia 

According to Farid Samir Benavides Vanegas, a law professor at Universidad de Los Andes, “homicide as a crime has an aggravating factor when it is committed simply and solely when and because the victim is a woman.” Hence, Colombia introduced femicide as a judicial term in 2015, determining the essential elements in the configuration of this crime. 

Image Source: Causa Justa por el Aborto Via X.

Colombia’s femicide rates have caused alarm among feminist and human rights organizations alike. Volcánicas, a feminist news publication, stated that “We don’t have the words to describe the femicide situation in Colombia. The annual lists fall short, not only because we know that there is a sub-registry due to our inability to name all femicides as they are, but also because the new year usually gives us a false illusion of a clean slate, only to end up burying the women assassinated in the previous year further into the dirt.” 

The monthly femicide average between January 2018 and March 2023 was 51 women, according to an Externado University investigation, and from January to April 2024, the Colombian Femicide Observatory registered 271 femicides in Colombia, raising the average to 67.8 monthly victims. 
The Colombian Attorney General’s Office has responded to the crisis by issuing an alert, and the government responded by signing Law 2356 of 2024 in May. This law establishes that those who have committed femicide will not be entitled to benefits.