LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) - A California eccentric who named himself after a literary vampire was sentenced to 30 years in prison without parole for bombing two La Paz hotels in 2006, attacks that killed two people and put a bizarre kink in already delicate Bolivia-U.S. relations.
Triston Jay Amero, 26, who answers to Lestat Claudius de Orleans y Montevideo, a variation on a character in Anne Rice's vampire novels, was convicted Tuesday of bombing two low-rent hotels in the Bolivian capital, an attorney close to the case confirmed Wednesday.
The court based its verdict largely on testimony from the Placerville native's estranged common law wife, 47-year-old Alda Ribeiro Costa, of Uruguay. Riberio was also sentenced to 30 years for her role in the crime.
But he's not shy about his professed knack for blowing things up, a skill he says he discovered shooting off fireworks with his grandmother.
«There's no school where you can go to learn how to be an explosives expert,» Amero told The Associated Press during the trial. «You either have a talent for it or you don't.
Bolivia's president, meanwhile, has repeatedly insinuated that Amero is part of a larger U.S. plot to destabilize his leftist government.
«The U.S. government fights terrorism, and they send us terrorists,» Morales declared shortly after Amero's arrest. He later backed off any specific accusations, but still cites the hotel bombings in his frequent criticisms of U.S. involvement in Bolivia.
U.S. officials emphatically deny any ties to Amero, and say such comments have hurt relations with Bolivia.
«You have the president of the country saying this guy is guilty. That's not fair,» said Paul Wolf, a Washington-based lawyer.
Amero's mother, Dawna Scheda, declined Wednesday to comment on the verdict.
According to U.S. court documents, Amero has received psychiatric treatment off and on since age 7, spent years at a juvenile detention center and often made threats of suicide and violence against authorities.
A similar pattern continued in Bolivia, according to a former prison official who supervised Amero's pretrial solitary confinement at Chonchocoro prison. Amero will return to serve his sentence at the grim maximum-security facility on the wind-swept outskirts of La Paz.
«We could see he had psychological problems,» said Ramiro Llanos, who served as national prison director until August. «He had poor relations with the rest of the prisoners, he shouted and threatened them.
At Chonchocoro, Amero is not likely to get much help in overcoming his personal demons. La Paz state has only four prison psychologists for some 2,200 inmates, and each earns only about US$100 (¤68.62) a month, Llanos said.
Chonchocoro's drinking water comes from a well tainted by the seep of city sewage. Heating is weak, and prisoners bundle up in jackets to survive the freezing Andean nights.
And its roughly 100 prisoners are wary of Amero, who last year was caught hiding gasoline in his cell and admitted plotting to immolate prison officials, fellow inmates and even a U.S. diplomat sent to visit him.
He moved to Bolivia in 2004 and settled in the mining town of Potosi, where dynamite is sold freely in the street. He obtained the simple license required to sell the explosives and opened a shop -- even printing a promotional poster of his wife posing nude with a box of dynamite.
The bitter decades of prison ahead have not dimmed Amero's love for Bolivia. In the months before the bombings he and Ribeiro had traveled to La Paz so he could apply for citizenship, a goal he plans to continue chasing behind bars.
«Something about this country just bites you,» he said.