BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - The parents of Natalee Holloway, the American teenager who disappeared in Aruba in 2005, say their ordeal hasn't ended with a judge declaring their daughter dead. Their lawyers say they hope a young Dutchman seen leaving a bar with Holloway on the last day she was seen alive might ultimately be brought before a U.S. court on charges stemming from the case.
Joran van der Sloot, 24, pleaded guilty Wednesday in Peru to the 2010 slaying of a young woman he had met in a Lima casino. That plea from the Dutchman described as the prime suspect in the Holloway case came hours before Thursday's hearing in a Birmingham court where Dave and Beth Holloway watched the difficult step of a judge ruling their daughter legally dead.
"We've been dealing with her death for the last six and a half years," Dave Holloway said after Thursday's hearing. He said the judge's order closes one chapter in the ordeal, but added: "We've still got a long way to go to get justice."
Thursday's hearing was scheduled before van der Sloot - who had been questioned in Holloway's disappearance - pleaded guilty to the 2010 murder of a 21-year-old Peruvian, Stephany Flores. Flores was slain five years to the day after Holloway, an 18-year-old from the wealthy Birmingham suburb of Mountain Brook, disappeared.
Dave Holloway said he hopes van der Sloot, who awaits sentencing, gets a 30-year prison term sought by Peruvian prosecutors. Shortly after Flores' death on May 30, 2010, van der Sloot told police he had killed the woman in Peru in a fit of rage after she discovered on his laptop his connection to Holloway's disappearance. Police forensic experts disputed the claim.
"Everybody knows his personality. I believe he is beyond rehabilitation," Dave Holloway said.
Attorneys said both parents spoke of hopes that van der Sloot's next stop will be Birmingham, where he faces federal charges accusing him of extorting $25,000 from Beth Holloway to reveal the location of her daughter's body. Prosecutors said the money was paid, but nothing was disclosed about the missing woman's whereabouts.
Authorities said they believe the tall, garrulous Dutchman used the money to travel to Peru on May 14, 2010, where Flores was killed two weeks later. Van der Sloot is now jailed in Peru.
"I expect to see him in Birmingham," Dave Holloway said of van der Sloot on Thursday, shortly after Probate Judge Alan King declared his daughter dead.
Natalee Holloway disappeared on May 30, 2005, during a high school graduation trip to the Dutch Caribbean island where van der Sloot grew up. Her body was never found and repeated searches turned up nothing as intense media coverage brought the case worldwide attention.
Investigators have long worked from the assumption that the young woman was dead in Aruba, where the case was classified as a homicide investigation. That investigation remains open, though there has been no recent activity, said Solicitor General Taco Stein, an official with the prosecutor's office in Aruba.
"The team that was acting in that investigation still is functioning as a team and they get together whenever there is information or things are needed in the case or a new tip arrives," Stein said in a phone interview Thursday.
In Birmingham, Natalee Holloway's parents, who have been divorced since 1993, shook hands and talked briefly before Thursday's hearing. During the 10-minute proceeding, they looked on somberly.
Dave Holloway told the judge in September he believed his daughter was dead and wanted to stop payments on her medical insurance and use her $2,000 college fund to help her younger brother. Beth Holloway initially objected, but her lawyer, Charlie DeBardeleben, said she later changed her mind once she understood her husband's intentions.
Beth Holloway sat in the back row in court, staring at her hands as she held them in her lap most of the time. Her attorney said it was difficult for her to witness the judge signing the death declaration.
"She's ready to move on from this," DeBardeleben added.
Mark White, an attorney for Dave Holloway, told the judge before he ruled that there was no indication Holloway was alive - despite exhaustive searches, reward offers and blanket media coverage at times.
"Despite all that no evidence has been found Natalee Holloway is alive," he told the judge.
King had ruled in September that Dave Holloway had met the legal presumption of death for his daughter and it was up to someone to prove she didn't die on the trip. Thursday's hearing was held after a wait of several months but no one came forward with new information.
Attorneys said they are unaware of any plans for a memorial service.