Un­com­mon of­fer leads to sur­ren­der

Robert Van Wisse pleads guilty to wo­man’s 1983 mur­der.

Austin American-Statesman - - METRO & STATE - By Ryan Au­tullo rautullo@states­man.com

It’s against de­part­ment pol­icy for the Travis County district at­tor­ney’s of­fice to ne­go­ti­ate with fugi­tives, but an ex­cep­tion was made to ap­pre­hend a for­mer Univer­sity of Texas stu­dent who fled to Mex­ico 34 years ago af­ter killing a young mother in an of­fice build­ing.

District At­tor­ney Mar­garet Moore said her of­fice en­gaged in a “very un­con­ven­tional ne­go­ti­a­tion” with the sus­pect, Robert Van Wisse, who pleaded guilty to mur­der Tuesday in Travis County state District Court in ex­change for a 30-year prison sen­tence. Au­thor­i­ties say the Mex­i­can citizen had been dodg­ing ar­rest since he killed 22-year-old Lau­rie Stout in 1983.

Van Wisse, 52, agreed to sur­ren­der to U.S. of­fi­cials on Jan. 26 near the bor­der in Laredo, which was the re­sult, ac­cord­ing to his de­fense at­tor­ney, Perry Min­ton,

of him feel­ing pres­sure af­ter the FBI added him to its 10 Most Wanted Fugi­tives list in De­cem­ber.

Fear­ing a lengthy and com­pli­cated ex­tra­di­tion process, Moore said she re­vis­ited the de­part­ment’s pol­icy against ne­go­ti­at­ing with fugi­tives and pre­sented a 30-year deal, through Min­ton, that she said re­flects pun­ish­ments handed down in other mur­der cases from the early 1980s in Travis County. The sen­tence was con­tin­gent on Van Wisse re­turn­ing to the U.S. to sur­ren­der.

“I will prob­a­bly not have a more sat­is­fy­ing mo­ment in pros­e­cu­tion than this,” Moore told re­porters.

Min­ton cred­ited Moore’s will­ing­ness to ne­go­ti­ate for bring­ing a res­o­lu­tion that’s pleas­ing to both sides. Had Moore pressed for a longer sen­tence, Min­ton said, his client might not have been so will­ing to sur­ren­der.

“He was born and raised in Mex­ico,” Min­ton said. “He knew how to get around.”

Moore said au­thor­i­ties linked ev­i­dence from the mur­der scene to Van Wisse through re­cent DNA test­ing. Austin po­lice found Stout’s body the morn­ing of Sept. 20, 1983, dur­ing her clean­ing shift at an of­fice build­ing. Med­i­cal ex­am­in­ers ruled she had been sex­u­ally as­saulted and stran­gled.

Van Wisse waived his right to ap­peal and must serve half of the sen­tence be­fore be­ing el­i­gi­ble for pa­role. He spoke openly to the court and ac­knowl­edged that any apol­ogy he could of­fer would be “in­ad­e­quate” for what he had done. And he said he can’t ex­plain what trig­gered his de­sire to kill Stout, be­cause “I was never vi­o­lent be­fore and I’ve never been vi­o­lent since.”

As for peo­ple who want Van Wisse to rot in hell, he said he agrees.

“I of­ten find my­self agree­ing with those who hold that opin­ion,” he said.

But most of all, Van Wisse said, “I de­prived a lit­tle girl from her mother.”

Stout’s daugh­ter, Daile, was 18 months old at the time of her mother’s death. She told the court­room — filled with fam­ily mem­bers and law en­force­ment — that she has no rec­ol­lec­tion of her mother. But she re­cited just how long she’s been gone — “33 years, four months, five days.”

Is 30 years a fair sen­tence? “Ab­so­lutely not,” she said.

Min­ton, whose law firm has rep­re­sented Van Wisse since he was named a sus­pect shortly af­ter the mur­der, said he reached out to his client “through a long process” af­ter the FBI put him on the most wanted list. Ap­pre­hen­sion was im­mi­nent, au­thor­i­ties told Min­ton. FBI agent Justin Noble told re­porters “we were get­ting close” to an ar­rest and that Van Wisse’s pic­ture for the most wanted list was placed on a bill­board near his home.

Min­ton wouldn’t say where Van Wisse had been liv­ing out of con­cern for his fam­ily’s safety.

Af­ter hid­ing in Mex­ico, he turns self in on promise of a 30-year sen­tence.

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