(with help from AP)

The man suspected in the disappearance and probable death of Birmingham, Al., teen Natalee Holloway, has been sentenced to 28 years in prison in the death of another young woman, 21-year-old Stephany Flores.24-year-old Joran van der Sloot pleaded guilty to killing the young woman in a hotel room at a Casino in Lima,  Peru, on May 30th, 2010.  That's the exact anniversary of  Holloway's disappearance 6 years earlier.

Van der Sloot admitted to killing the Peruvian woman for a more lenient sentence.  The maximum sentence was 30 years.  The confessed murderer could get parole in 14 years for good behavior.

A panel of three judges  imposed  his sentence yesterday.  The prosecution said Van der Sloot beat Flores to death and left behind a bloody crime scene after stealing $5,000 from her.

It's still so sad to me that this monster has never done the time for the crime of being some how involved in the disappearance and likely death of Holloway.

This bothers me because I'm from Birmingham, and I've followed the story closely since Natalee went missing. Shortly after her disappearance, I was visiting my sister and went to the church Natalee's family attended and took pictures of the shrine of flowers and memorials on the wall.

We even wrote notes of prayers and encouragement that Natalee would be found alive, and took bracelets the family made as reminders to pray.

My niece had even babysat Natalee's younger brother. It was all about having fun and partying when those graduates from the upscale neighborhood of Mountain Brook went to Aruba on that last trip.

The legal drinking age in Aruba is 18. When I was a teenager in Alabama, kids would go to Panama City after graduation because the legal drinking age in Florida was 18.

Not much has changed since then, except there are more dangers lurking around the corner for beautiful young women away by themselves.

Why did the chaperones leave Aruba before the teenagers were all accounted for? Why did Natalee walk out of that casino with van der Sloot and his friends in an apparent drunken or drugged state? Why did her friends that saw her leave not insist that she stay with them?

There are some things you can't control and forcing an 18-year-old, who is of legal age in another country, to leave someone's company because she's not coherent is one of those things.

I've always worried about my own daughters ending up at a wild party and someone drugging their drink for immoral purposes. I wonder if that's what happened to Natalee.

Did she willingly take drugs or was she not aware of what was going on? This could have been anyone's daughter and it really hit home with me.

When van der Sloot confessed about how Natalee died to that undercover reporter I was so hoping authorities could at least find her body, so her mother could have closure.

But the lack of justice in Aruba's court system was appalling, and I know Natalee's mother, Beth did all she could to get her daughter back or get justice. She never got either.

This is why I think no matter how sorry van der Sloot says he is in the death of the Peruvian woman, not even 28 years is enough since  everyone believes he was involved in Natalee's death.

In fact, the reason he gave for killing Flores is because she was on his laptop computer that had emails about Natalee's death. Flores' death was on the fifth anniversary of Natalee's disappearance to the day.

Van der Sloot and his lawyers knew that if Van der Sloot did not plead guilty that a trial would prove his motive for killing Flores and that the laptop with emails about Natalee could be used as evidence in Natalee's death as well, and he could then be charged again with Natalee's death.

In Aruba with its failed justice system, van der Sloot was able with the help of his father, the judge, to get rid of the evidence (Natalee's body). It was an open and shut case before it was ever opened because of the strings the elder van der Sloot pulled, most likely violating the law himself.

Here's to van der Sloot actually serving time for a crime, but to me, it's like O.J. Simpson. He got caught doing something illegal and was charged and tried on a lesser charge. Justice was never served in the murders of his wife and her friend, except in civil court.

Justice is not being served for Natalee, either. And my heart goes out to both families of both young women. A shorter prison sentence for Stephany's death is not just either.

Beth has moved on now, and gives interviews and speeches warning of the dangers of foreign travel, especially for teenagers. I hope she gets closure in Natalee's death someday.

IN THE MEANTIME, a judge in Alabama Thursday granted Natalee's father's request to  have Natalee declared legally dead.  The request comes more than six years after her disappearance in Aruba.

Jefferson County Probate Judge Alan King ruled in September that Dave Holloway had met the legal presumption of death and it was up to someone to prove she didn't die on a high school graduation trip.

The father's attorney says no new evidence has come forward and that's why he  asked the judge to rule her dead.

Both parents attended the hearing.  Beth said she was still not giving up hope that her daughter may be found someday.


This may be as close as Natalee's family ever get to finding closure.
My thoughts and prayers are with them.


What do you think? Is the 28 years in prison a harsh enough punishment for Van der Sloot?  And,  will he ever be prosecuted in Alabama for extortion in Natalee's murder?  Beth had offered to pay Joran thousands of dollars in exchange for information about Natalee's death.   He agreed and authorities have enough evidence to try him in Alabama for extortion.