Caught squarely in the klieg-lit spotlight of an international media starved for fresh news, attorneys for the three suspects detained last week in the long-unsolved disappearance of Alabama teen Natalee Holloway will return to an Aruban courtroom today to battle with a new prosecutor and a new team of investigators.
But the ravenous public hunger for new developments in the investigation — reawakened suddenly with last week's arrests — may not be sated anytime soon.
For the public and the media, the case is a rich source of casual, who-done-it speculation and debate.
For the people directly involved — the embittered parents; the pressured prosecutors and investigators; the defense attorneys, whose dedication has forged in them a deeply felt devotion to the three men they feel have been irretrievably stained and broken by false accusations; and the high school friends who will never again recall their spring graduation without a penetrating sense of sorrow, loss and regret — nothing could be more real, more serious or more disturbing.
Still, it appears the wait for answers may continue for some time. They may never be satisfactorily answered.
Today's court hearings are not expected to shed significant new light on this mystery that has haunted the island nation and captivated the American public for more than two years.
But at some point soon, Aruban authorities will have to show their hands and the new evidence they have so closely guarded will surface publicly. The strength of that evidence will likely finally reveal whether the world will ever learn what happened to the pretty, promising young graduate from Mountain Brook, Ala.
Prosecutors Under Pressure
Nevertheless, the divorced parents of the young girl are expected to return to Aruba this week to carry on their anguished odyssey to finally learn what happened to their daughter, who disappeared from a local beach after a night of partying that ended in the company of the three suspects, Joran Van der Sloot and Satish and Deepak Kalpoe. The 18-year-old was on the island, celebrating her high school graduation with a group of friends and classmates.
For the lawyers, friends and families on both sides, the stakes are higher than ever.
Aruban prosecutors are under legal pressure to either make their case or drop it by year's end. The Kalpoes' attorneys have argued authorities should not be allowed to continue their investigation indefinitely and prosecutors have agreed to set a timetable of Dec. 31 to either bring charges or drop the case.
What prosecutors are obliquely referring to as "new evidence" appears to be wiretapped conversations between the suspects, culled from listening devices secretly planted in the Kalpoes' home earlier this year, defense attorneys say.
In May, a fresh team of police investigators and prosecutors took over the vexing case in the hope that new eyes would find new leads to follow. That same month, the Kalpoes were briefly rearrested and a surprise search was conducted at their home — a modest, neon-green, single-story house near the base of Hooiberg mountain.
A teenage sister of the Kalpoes wearily but politely declined an interview request from ABC News earlier this week. During the May search of the home, investigators allegedly planted bugs there so they could monitor the brothers' conversations, defense attorneys claim.
Speculative New Evidence
Prosecutors could compare any new information they obtained from the Kalpoe wiretaps to evidence and statements obtained back in 2005, but the nature of any new evidence and its legal value remain speculative.
Given the intentionally vague and thoroughly contradictory manner in which each side is characterizing the new information to the press, it's nearly impossible to assess the impact it could have on the investigation.
But along the way, there have been tantalizing hints of some form of culpability among the trio.
According to an evidence transcript reviewed by ABC News, Van der Sloot apparently told Deepak Kalpoe, in a conversation in a car that was bugged by police, "You know what happened to that girl," and later, "If you have done something bad to the girl, we will see."
Lawyers on both sides of the case have lately displayed an almost aggressive confidence in their respective analyses of the evidence to date.
Ronald Wix, who represents the Kalpoe family, told ABC News this week that the prosecutors' so-called new evidence essentially centers on a reexamination of old evidence from 2005 that was simply reviewed by a new team of investigators, using more current technology.
"What they did is, they took a lot of old evidence and presented it as new evidence," Wix said. "And how they argued that is, that, 'well, now we have state-of-the-art equipment that we didn't have back then to analyze this evidence, and now we're looking at the evidence differently, and that constitutes new evidence.' It's not."
'We Wanted to Solve This Case'
Wix insisted that "99 percent is actually old stuff, [and] that 1 percent new is not enough to give these guys a parking ticket."
Prosecutor Hans Mos disputes that contention.
"We found these new leads and reinvestigated the old file we had,'' he said. "Then, you have to make a decision. Do you just want to cover up, like some people in America think we do? And say, 'OK, everything is nice and quiet in Aruba,' and we don't do anything anymore? That was not our choice. We wanted to solve this case."
Prosecutors have said they believe they can prove that Holloway is dead, but have not disclosed how.
Today's hearings, closed to the public, will address two issues — whether the Kalpoe brothers, who currently each have their own attorney, can be represented together, and whether Van der Sloot's incarceration conditions are overly restrictive, as his lawyers claim. Neither issue is expected to be ruled on until at least Friday, according to prosecutors.
Unlike previous detentions of the trio, each of the men is being held in separate police facilities around the island.
Defense lawyers have argued in court, and declared publicly, that the "new evidence" used to rearrest the men is legally thin. But a judge in the case ruled this week that the evidence was sufficient to rearrest and detain the three men. The Kalpoe brothers will be detained at least until Friday. Van der Sloot, arrested in the Netherlands and transported to Aruba earlier this week, will be held until at least Dec. 7.
None have been officially charged with a crime, but they were arrested on suspicion of voluntary manslaughter, a lesser crime under Aruban law than murder, which requires proof of premeditation.
The detentions, which must be reapproved by a judge, periodically, depending on the number of detentions, are meant to allow authorities access to the suspects as they work to build a case strong enough to take to trial.
Van der Sloot's attorneys insist the restrictions on their client are unreasonable. He is not allowed family visits or access even to his American attorney, Joseph Tacopina. He is also restricted from access to newspapers, magazines, television and a Bible, Tacopina told ABC News.
To a greater degree than the Kalpoe brothers, Van der Sloot has been the subject of intense police scrutiny, repeatedly detained, and later released, and made to "re-enact" the evening he spent with Holloway, several times.
His lawyers say he has always been cooperative with the investigation. On Dec. 7, they hope to persuade a judge, based on those facts, to at least release the young man to house arrest with an ankle bracelet monitor. His parents own a home on the island.
Probing Deeper Water Off Aruban Coast
As media anticipation of the Holloway parents' return to the island builds through a week that has provided few verifiable developments, but enough intriguing rumors to keep the news-starved press chasing mostly specious ghosts of truth from one end of the island to the other, another curious endeavor is under way.
More than 2½ years after Holloway's disappearance from Aruba, another large-scale, high-tech private search operation is planned for this weekend.
The Texas Equusearch Mounted Search and Recovery Team — which has searched waters off Aruba five times since Holloway's disappearance — departed last week from a Louisiana port for the lengthy ocean journey to Aruba. Using a 125-foot vessel with sophisticated side-scanning sonar that can detect objects 600 feet in two directions, the clearly determined team will probe the deeper waters further off the coast surrounding the island.
While few would dispute the enormous odds against summoning up any new forensic clues from the nebulous ocean tides, so long after Holloway's disappearance, hope — even seemingly unrealistic hope — is a privilege and a right most observers would surely grant a father whose daughter vanished without a trace.
"You know, that's important for any human being to have closure, and know exactly what happened, and have, you know, funeral burial," Dave Holloway told ABC News affiliate KIRK last week.
"I'm very, very optimistic that we're going to be going to a funeral in Birmingham, Ala., before long," he said.