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U.S. Attorney Prim Escalona: Years of work on Holloway case finally bore fruit

Last week’s conviction of Joran van der Sloot in connection to the 2005 disappearance of Natalee Holloway came after more than a decade of repeated efforts and work by a variety of American law enforcement offices and overseas counterparts, said Prim Escalona, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama.

Escalona, the lead prosecutor in the case, discusses on Alabama Public Television’s Capitol Journal the events that led to van der Sloot‘s eventual extradition to the U.S. this year and guilty plea to extorting Holloway’s mother in an Alabama courtroom. It’s a long-awaited resolution to a case that has captivated the public’s attention since Holloway disappeared on a high school graduation trip to Aruba. Though van der Sloot wasn’t charged with Holloway’s death, part of his plea deal included documenting his account of killing her and disposing of her body.

Prosecutors had previously tried to extradite van der Sloot nearly a decade ago.

“We talked to the FBI and others and thought, ‘Let’s try one more time,’ Escalona said. “New information had developed, there was more of a pressing need. Media attention was still on that case and the importance of it, and so it gave us the opportunity to go back to Peru. The Peruvian government had changed and so their willingness to extradite him at that time had changed.”

van der Sloot’s 20-year prison term will run concurrently with a 28-year sentence he’s serving in Peru for killing another woman, Stephany Flores, in 2010.

“It was wonderful to be able to do that for the Holloway family and for Natalee,” Escalona said.

Beth Holloway last week said that after 18 years, the family has the answers it sought.

Escalona said that even though long periods of time had passed between updates on Holloway’s case, that didn’t mean that the Department of Justice had forgotten about the teenager.

“It’s a nice reminder that even when we don’t hear about things happening, the work is being done. The Department of Justice so often works behind the scenes where they don’t do it in the press, they can’t – for a variety of reasons,” Escalona said.

Escalona was court appointed to her role in 2020 and was one of the few U.S. attorneys retained by President Joe Biden’s administration after he took office in 2021. In her interview with Capitol Journal, Escalona discussed her office’s work on combating sex trafficking and the relationship between domestic violence and violent crime as a whole. 

“People so often focus on differences,” Escalona said. “What I can tell you is, this job is very similar from administration to administration in a lot of ways, and in the ways that matter.

“The focus remains on keeping communities safe, decreasing violent crime, protecting civil rights, ferreting out public corruption. And those core values have been this office’s core values for years.”

Watch Capitol Journal Friday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at noon on Alabama Public Television



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