BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — On Friday, Joran van der Sloot pleaded not guilty regarding charges of fraud and extortion in his initial court appearance Friday morning.
Van der Sloot, who was dressed in an Air Jordan T-shirt, briefly wore an earpiece with a Dutch interpretation of the hearing, but ultimately chose not to use it. During the hearing, which lasted a few minutes, he was read the charges against him and pleaded not guilty.
Van der Sloot, who was flown into Birmingham Thursday from Peru, is facing charges regarding his alleged extortion of Natalee Holloway’s family in 2010. He stood in court at the Hugo L. Black Courthouse and was represented by public defender Kevin Butler.
“Eighteen years later, the wheels of justice have finally begun to turn for our family, and we are getting our long-awaited day in court,” Beth Holloway, mother of Natalee Holloway, said in a statement following the hearing.
“Joran van der Sloot’s not guilty plea is not disheartening to us, it simply means that his legal team is going to try to make the state prove the case against him. We are confident the U.S. Attorney’s office in Birmingham, Alabama will succeed in getting a conviction, and we are very grateful to them for their hard work on this case.”
Natalee Holloway, a Mountain Brook native, disappeared in 2005 while on a senior trip to Aruba. Despite never being charged in the case, van der Sloot was the last man Natalee Holloway’s friends had seen her with and has been considered a prime suspect in her disappearance for the last 18 years.
In 2010, van der Sloot allegedly told the lawyer for Natalee Holloway’s parents that for $25,000, he would tell him where Holloway was buried. As part of that agreement, Holloway’s family agreed to pay him an additional $225,000 if Natalee Holloway was found. However, van der Sloot’s promise came up empty and he eventually fled to Peru.
In 2012, Holloway was declared legally dead by an Alabama judge at the request of her father, Dave Holloway. However, her mother, Beth, has never stopped fighting to get justice for her daughter, and her father has never given up hope to one day find her.
Prior to the hearing, mother Beth Holloway and her family were joined by journalist Greta Van Susteren, a host on Newsmax TV who extensively covered the Holloway case when she worked for Fox News. In 2008, Van Susteren interviewed van der Sloot, who told her that he had sold Holloway to a human trafficker, but later recanted his claims.
George Patriot Seymore, spokesperson for the Holloways, said the wheels of justice are moving and that Friday was both an emotional and exciting day for the family.
“It’s going to be the closest thing that we can have to justice,” Seymore said.
Former federal prosecutor John Byrne predicted Van der Sloot’s time in the U.S. would be pretty well scripted following his initial landing.
“And most critically, [the judge] is going to tell him he has the right to ask for pretrial release,” said Byrne. “What does that mean? He’s going to ask for the right, while this trial is pending to be out of custody, walking the streets of Alabama until a verdict is returned. That’s a right that he has to ask for that. Is he going to get that? Highly unlikely.”
Van der Sloot’s trial will begin at an undetermined time. It is unclear whether he will appear in court after his arraignment. As of Friday night, van der Sloot is being held in the Shelby County Jail.
Once his time in Birmingham is complete, van der Sloot will return to Peru to serve out the rest of his sentence for the murder of Stephany Flores. If convicted in the U.S. extortion case, van der Sloot would be required to serve out his sentence once his murder sentence in Peru has been served.