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A not guilty plea was entered in US federal court on Friday on behalf of Joran van der Sloot, the Dutch national accused in the alleged extortion of the mother of Natalee Holloway, the American teenager whose disappearance during a high school graduation trip to Aruba in 2005 became an international mystery.
In the less than five-minute-long hearing in Birmingham, Alabama, US Magistrate Judge Gray Borden said he would only accept a not guilty plea at this time, and if van der Sloot were to enter any other plea it would be before a different judge at a different time.
Borden also advised him of his US Constitutional rights and appointed the Federal Public Defender’s office to represent him. An interpreter was provided for van der Sloot, 35, but he told the court he did not need one.
“My English is actually perfect,” he said shortly before the start of the proceeding.
US Public Defender for the Northern District of Alabama Kevin Butler was in court with van der Sloot, who was one of the last people seen with the 18-year-old Holloway before she vanished, never to be found. He will remain in custody until his trial.
Holloway’s parents, Beth and Dave, her brother Matt and supporters of the family attended the hearing. Beth Holloway at times looked at the defendant, who wore jeans and a white t-shirt.
“It’s going to be the closest thing that we can have to justice, just to have some kind of justice in our country,” said George Patriot Seymore, a spokesman for the Holloway family.
Dave Holloway said in a statement Friday that van der Sloot’s arraignment was an “important step toward accountability and hopefully, justice.”
“These particular charges do not involve me directly, but I am trusting that this prosecution will lead us to the truth about Natalee,” Holloway said.
“I remain thankful for everything done by the U.S. Attorney’s office, the FBI, and the U.S. Marshal’s office here in Birmingham. We are also deeply appreciative for the support of people all over the world who share in common belief that good must always prevail over evil.”
Carol Standifer, a close friend of Beth Holloway, said outside court the family is “just happy that this day has finally arrived.”
“We just wanted to be here to support Beth, and we’re just very happy to see Joran on Alabama soil and it just gives us a bit of closure, and we’ve been looking for this day for many years,” Standifer said.
Van der Sloot, who was transferred Thursday from Peru to Birmingham in the company of a team of FBI special agents, was indicted in 2010 on federal charges of extortion and wire fraud in connection with a plot to sell information about the whereabouts of Holloway’s remains in exchange for $250,000, according to an indictment filed in the Northern District of Alabama.
Beth Holloway wired $15,000 to a bank account van der Sloot held in the Netherlands and through an attorney gave him another $10,000 in person, the indictment states. Once he had the initial $25,000, van der Sloot showed the attorney, John Q. Kelly, where Natalee Holloway’s remains allegedly were hidden, but later admitted by email the information was “worthless,” the indictment states.
Holloway was last seen with van der Sloot and two other men leaving a nightclub on the Dutch Caribbean island of Aruba 18 years ago. Police in Aruba arrested and released the three men – van der Sloot and brothers Deepak and Satish Kalpoe – multiple times in 2005 and 2007 in connection with Holloway’s disappearance. Attorneys for the men maintained their innocence throughout the investigation.
In December 2007, the Aruban Public Prosecutor’s Office said none of the three would be charged and dropped the cases against them, citing insufficient evidence.
Five years later, a judge in Alabama signed an order declaring Holloway legally dead.
Beth Holloway is “ecstatic” and “overwhelmed” van der Sloot is on U. soil, Kelly said on NBC’s “Today Show” Friday.
“She’s basically overwhelmed by the whole situation, she had a full spectrum of emotion,” Kelly said. “On the one hand, she was ecstatic that van der Sloot was on US soil, U.S. authority, US justice system — but it’s still like pulling a scab off an old wound, there’s always a pain there and he’s a painful reminder of what she’s been through.”
Kelly expects to testify in the case, though he has yet to prepare with the attorneys.
Van der Sloot has been held at a prison in Peru after he was convicted in 2012 of murdering Stephany Flores, 21, in his Lima hotel room on the fifth anniversary of Holloway’s disappearance. He was sentenced to 28 years in prison.
At the time of his trial, authorities said van der Sloot had used the money from Holloway’s mother to travel to Peru for a poker tournament, where he met Flores.
Peru initially agreed to transfer van der Sloot to the US to face the two charges only after he serves his murder sentence. But last month, the country changed course and agreed to temporarily transfer him to face the US charges, after which he would be returned to Peru, the country’s judiciary said.
An FBI-operated plane carrying Joran van der Sloot arrives at the Birmingham International Airport, Thursday, June 8, 2023, in Birmingham, Alabama. - Butch Dill/AP
Peru agreed to van der Sloot’s “temporary relocation to the United States, because he is condemned here and he must serve his sentence here,” Justice Minister Daniel Maurate said. “But since the US needs him in order to face trial, and the authorities told us that if he didn’t get there sooner, the case against him could be dropped because the witnesses are elderly.”
On Thursday, van der Sloot took a six-and-a-half-hour flight on an FBI jet in what the bureau calls a foreign transfer of custody operation. Typically, the team comprises two FBI special agent pilots, at least one additional auxiliary crew member, and several agents providing security for the prisoner. In many long-haul flights, a medic also accompanies the team.
Prisoners are watched the entire time and wear restraints.
Van der Sloot was taken in a caravan of black SUVs to a jail in Birmingham, not far from Holloway’s hometown of Mountain Brook.
CNN’s Ray Sanchez, Ben Finley, Josh Campbell and Liam Reilly contributed to this report.
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