BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — The chief suspect in the disappearance of Natalee Holloway has admitted he beat the young Alabama woman to death on a beach in Aruba after she refused his advances, then dumped her body into the sea. New details in the killing emerged Wednesday as Joran van der Sloot pleaded guilty to extorting Holloway’s mother, resolving a case that has captivated the public’s attention for nearly 20 years.
Although he isn’t charged in Holloway’s death, van der Sloot’s attempt to squeeze a quarter million dollars from the slain teen’s mom in exchange for information about where to find Holloway’s body gave investigators a crucial link to the 2005 killing. And after finally seeing him in a U.S. courtroom, the family said they’re moving on from years of doubt and uncertainty.
“As far as I’m concerned, it’s over,” Beth Holloway, Natalee’s mother, told reporters outside the federal courthouse in Alabama. “Joran van der Sloot is no longer the suspect in my daughter’s murder. He is the killer.”
Natalee Holloway went missing during a high school graduation trip with classmates. She was last seen May 30, 2005, leaving a bar with van der Sloot, a Dutch citizen and student at an international school on the Caribbean island where he grew up. He was questioned in the disappearance but never prosecuted. A judge declared Holloway dead, but her body was never found.
Now 36, van der Sloot has pleaded guilty to one count each of extortion and wire fraud in exchange for a 20-year sentence. That prison term will run concurrently with a 28-year sentence he’s serving in Peru for killing another woman, Stephany Flores, in 2010.
U.S. Judge Anna Manasco said the details of his confession factored into her sentencing decision.
“You have brutally murdered — in separate instances years apart — two young women who refused your sexual advances,” she said.
Shackled and wearing an orange jail uniform, van der Sloot told the crowded courtroom he hopes his confession provides closure.
“I would like the chance to apologize to the Holloway family, my own family,” he said, later adding, “I am no longer the person I was back then.”
Mark White, an attorney for Natalee’s father, Dave Holloway, believes van der Sloot cannot be prosecuted in Aruba — even with his confession — because the statute of limitations has expired.
The Aruba public prosecutor’s office said it was not immediately clear whether van der Sloot could face murder charges on the island. The investigation into Holloway’s disappearance is still open, and authorities “will follow up on any serious leads,” said Ann Angela, a prosecutor’s office spokesperson.
Manasco said the plea deal required van der Sloot to provide all the information he knew about Natalie Holloway’s disappearance, allow her parents to hear in “real time” his discussion with law enforcement, and take a polygraph test.
Court documents offer a transcript of his confession.
In an interview conducted by his attorney, van der Sloot says he and Holloway were lying on the beach kissing. She started to resist, but he kept touching her, so she kneed him between the legs. He stood up and kicked her “extremely hard” in the face while she was still lying down.
At that point, he says, she was unconscious, or even dead. He says he picked up a nearby cinderblock and brought it down on her face, then dragged her body until he was knee-deep in the waves and pushed her out to sea.
Beth Holloway said in an interview with The Associated Press that it felt “victorious” to see van der Sloot in court and “finally be at the end of this nightmare.” The family agreed to the plea deal because it was a way to get answers, she said.
“I’m the mother, and I wanted answers as to what happened to Natalee,” Beth Holloway said. “That’s what I had been searching for for 18 years.”
Natalee’s Holloway parents had listened and watched as van der Sloot gave the interview describing what happened. In a letter to the judge, Dave Holloway called van der Sloot “evil personified.” He said that after witnessing the confession he believes van der Sloot acted alone as the killer, but he expressed doubts about van der Sloot’s story of disposing of the body alone.
“Questions will forever remain about the extent to which others participated in depriving us of the opportunity to return Natalee’s remains to Alabama,” Dave Holloway wrote in the letter to the judge.
The Holloway family has long sought answers about the disappearance, and van der Sloot has given shifting accounts over the years. At one point, he said Holloway was buried in gravel under the foundation of a house but later admitted that was untrue.
Five years after the killing, an FBI sting recorded the extortion attempt in which van der Sloot asked Beth Holloway to pay him $250,000 so he would tell her where to find her daughter’s body. He agreed to accept $25,000 to disclose the location and asked for the other $225,000 once the remains were recovered.
Before he could be arrested in the extortion case, van der Sloot slipped away by moving from Aruba to Peru. The South American country agreed to temporarily extradite him to the U.S. to face trial on the extortion charge, and he will return to Peruvian custody after his case is concluded.
Van der Sloot’s guilty plea in federal court, a few miles from where Natalee Holloway attended high school, came three days before what would have been her 37th birthday. Standing at a podium in the courtroom, Beth Holloway addressed van der Sloot.
“You are a killer,” she said. “I want you to remember that every time that jail door slams.”