AUSTIN (KXAN) — After more than 30 years of waiting for justice, the family of Laurie Stout finally has some closure.
On Tuesday, 51-year-old Robert Francis Van Wisse pleaded guilty in the 1983 murder of Stout and was sentenced to 30 years in prison as part of a plea deal. Van Wisse’s attorney, Perry Minton, says they actually worked with the Travis County District Attorney’s Office to work out a possible plea deal prior to Van Wisse turning himself in. Minton believes if District Attorney Margaret Moore had not been interested in negotiations, his client would still be in on the run.
“It is my belief, taking nothing away from the incredible and diligent efforts of law enforcement, that our client could have remained on the run for the remainder of his life, if he had chosen to do so,” says Minton in a statement. “But Robert did want to return and face his consequences and expressed that to us emphatically. However, credit for this decades-old case being resolved in the manner in which it was, goes to District Attorney Margaret Moore and her alone. If she had not been willing to engage in the unusual practice of pre-surrender negotiations, Robert Van Wisse would likely still be deep in the recesses of Mexico.”
On Sept. 20, 1983, Stout’s body was found inside a men’s restroom at a south Austin office building on South First Street. Reports at the time indicated the victim was killed some time after midnight. Police say she was sexually assaulted, strangled and suffocated with a wire. Stout was married and had a 1-year-old daughter at the time.
Authorities determined Van Wisse, who was 18 years old the year Stout was killed, was in the building the evening before the murder, registering for a course with the University of Texas at Austin. Through the investigation, detectives determined Van Wisse was the last person seen in the building before she was killed, but the case remain unsolved until 1992 when a detective decided to take a closer look at the case.
KXAN reported in 1996 that when the DPS Crime took DNA samples from him, they mistakenly wrote on a report he was not a match to samples found at the scene. America’s Most Wanted reports the DNA sample had been discounted because of outdated methodology, but because his prints were found at the crime scene, it was enough to file charges against him.
On Oct. 3, 1996, local authorities issued an arrest warrant for Van Wisse after he was charged with murder. Police believe he left the Austin-area when he learned he was being investigated as a murder suspect. In March 1997, Van Wisse was also charged with unlawful flight to avoid prosecution and a federal warrant was issued.
In December, the Federal Bureau of Investigation added Van Wisse to its 10 Most Wanted Fugitive List. One month later, Van Wisse turned himself over to authorities in Laredo.
At a news conference after Van Wisse’s arrest, Stout’s family said, “It’s been a long time, but the time is over. We’re glad that he’s here.”