BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Joran van der Sloot, the chief suspect in the 2005 disappearance of Natalee Holloway, pleaded not guilty on Friday to charges that he attempted to extort money from the missing teen’s mother.
Van der Sloot was extradited to the United States on Thursday from Peru, where he is serving a 28-year prison sentence after confessing to killing a Peruvian woman. He was arraigned before a federal judge in Birmingham, not far from the suburb where Holloway grew up, in his first court appearance in the case.
U.S. prosecutors say that in 2010, van der Sloot reached out to Beth Holloway, seeking $250,000 to disclose the location of the young woman’s body. A grand jury indicted him that year.
Natalee’s mother watched the proceeding from the third row of the courtroom.
“For 18 years, I have lived with the unbearable pain of Natalee’s loss,” Beth Holloway said in a statement Thursday. “Each day has been filled with unanswered questions and a longing for justice that has eluded us at every turn. But today … I am hopeful that some small semblance of justice may finally be realized.”
Van der Sloot is charged with one count each of extortion and wire fraud — the only charges to have ever linked the Dutch citizen to Holloway’s disappearance on the Caribbean island of Aruba. He was handed over to the U.S. roughly a month after both countries agreed on his extradition.
Shackled and wearing jeans and a white T-shirt, van der Sloot declined to use a Dutch interpreter offered to him at Friday’s arraignment. He sat beside his court-appointed attorney, Kevin Butler, who entered the not guilty pleas on his behalf during the brief proceeding.
Natalee Holloway, 18, was on a high school graduation trip with classmates in Aruba when she vanished in 2005. She was last seen leaving a bar with van der Sloot, who was a student at an international school on the island. Van der Sloot was identified as a main suspect and detained weeks later for questioning, along with two Surinamese brothers, but no charges were filed in the case.
A judge declared Holloway dead, but her body has never been found.
Holloway’s mysterious disappearance sparked years of news coverage and countless true-crime podcasts.
In 2012, van der Sloot pleaded guilty in Peru to killing 21-year-old Stephany Flores, a business student from a prominent Peruvian family. She was killed in 2010 five years to the day after Holloway’s disappearance.
Van der Sloot married a Peruvian woman in July 2014 in a ceremony at a maximum-security prison. He was shuffled between Peruvian prisons in response to reports that he enjoyed privileges such as television, internet access and a cellphone, and accusations that he had threatened to kill a warden.
A 2001 treaty between Peru and the U.S. allows a suspect to be temporarily extradited to face trial in the other country. Van der Sloot’s attorney, Máximo Altez, initially indicated his client would not challenge his extradition but that changed Monday when he filed a writ of habeas corpus. A judge ruled against van der Sloot the following day.
Peru has agreed to let van der Sloot remain in U.S. custody until the Alabama case, including any appeal if he is convicted, is concluded, according to a resolution published in Peru’s federal register. U.S. authorities agree to return van der Sloot to Peru’s custody after that, the resolution states.