More than 30 years after a 22-year-old Texas woman was found strangled to death inside a bathroom stall, her family finally got to witness her killer plead guilty to murder and be sentenced to prison.
Earlier this week inside a Travis County, Texas, courtroom, 52-year-old Robert Van Wisse was sentenced to 30 years for the murder of Laurie Stout after he’d evaded arrest for years, PEOPLE confirms.
“We don’t typically negotiate with a fugitive, but this was a very unusual circumstance,” says Travis County Assistant District Attorney Amy Casner.
The guilty plea will help “bring some closure to the family of the victim,” Casner tells PEOPLE.
The plea was the result of a months-long process that began in December when Van Wisse was added to the FBI’s list of 10 Most Wanted Fugitives.
He was living in Mexico when he heard the news and decided he was ready to surrender to authorities. He turned to his attorneys Perry Q. Minton and Rick Flores, in Austin, Texas, and negotiations with the Travis County District Attorney’s Office soon began.
“He’d been on the run for a long time and that was not an easy life. He wanted to come back and face the consequences and pay his debt,” Minton tells PEOPLE from his office at Minton, Burton, Bassett & Collins. “He wanted to give his family some relief, and he wanted the opportunity to someday live again outside of being on the run.”
In January, authorities arrested Van Wisse in Laredo, Texas, at the Mexico border.
The Scene of the Crime
In 1983, Stout’s body was found in a bathroom stall inside a University of Texas-operated office building in Austin, where she was a janitor working the late-night cleaning shift, according to reports. Her murder remained unsolved for more than a decade.
In 1996, there was a break in the case and Travis County issued a warrant for the arrest of Van Wisse, a University of Texas student at the time of Stout’s death.
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“He was one of several people in the building who had access,” prosecutor Casner says. “His prints were found on the exterior of a fire exit door on the second floor and inside a bathroom stall where her body was found.”
Though authorities knew who they were looking for, Van Wisse was nowhere to be found.
‘All the Missed Moments’
At Tuesday’s hearing, after Van Wisse was sentenced, he apologized to Stout’s family members who were present, including her brother and sister; her daughter, who was 18 months old at the time of her death; and her husband.
“I want to say that I have no answers whatsoever for what happened in September 1983,” he said. “When I think about myself and what happened and why — I am clueless. I had never been violent before, nor have I been violent since.
“What this court or society can do to me pales in comparison for my deep and tortured sorrow for sexually assaulting and taking the life of Laurie Stout,” he continued. “It will rightfully haunt my soul forever.”
Stout’s family, who PEOPLE could not immediately reach, had a chance to the address the court as well.
“Her sister talked about all the missed moments with her sister — doing laundry with her on a Saturday, drinking coffee with her on the porch, celebrating birthdays,” Travis County Assistant District Attorney Katie Sweeten tells PEOPLE, “all the moments she had missed with her sister because this man had taken her from them.”
Sweeten says, “It was really emotional in the courtroom for everybody.”