ORANJESTAD, Aruba – All three men jailed in the disappearance of an Alabama teenager three months ago will go free Saturday, according to a judge's order — a development legal observers on Aruba (search) said shows the government had no case.
The case has drawn widespread U.S. media attention, with negative reports critical of the investigation leading residents of this relatively crime-free Dutch Caribbean island to fear for their tourism industry and protest they are being unfairly targeted.
Many point out that there is not one Aruban connected to the disappearance: those jailed are a Dutch teenager and two Surinamese men who were last seen with Natalee Holloway (search) in the early hours of the May 30 morning she vanished.
"The investigation continues. The case of Natalee Holloway has not concluded with these (planned) releases," Adolfo Richardson, the police officer in charge, told The Associated Press.
Prosecutors late Friday appealed the judge's order allowing the conditional release Saturday of two Surinamese brothers.
Judge R. Smid ruled that Deepak Kalpoe (search), 18, and Satish Kalpoe (search), 21, could go free on condition they do not leave the island and remain available to police, said their attorneys Ruud Oomen and David Kock.
Although the judge ordered Thursday that the Kalpoes be held another eight days, he agreed Friday to their release "since the brothers were free for almost two months and made no attempt to evade justice," Oomen said.
"My clients will fully cooperate with the investigation," he added. "They maintain their innocence very, very emphatically."
The court on Thursday had ordered Dutch teenager Joran van der Sloot (search), who turned 18 while in jail, freed under the same conditions.
Attempts to reach prosecutors for comment were unsuccessful.
Lawyers on the island were divided over what the releases might mean.
"The prosecution doesn't have the smoking gun. There is a fair chance they are innocent, even if a great part of public opinion has already convicted them," said Lincoln Gomez, an Oranjestad defense lawyer not connected to the case.
Another defense attorney, Ricardo Yarzagaray, offered words of caution.
"The fact that they have been released now doesn't have to be interpreted as necessarily a lack of evidence," he said. Under Dutch law that prevails on the island, a suspect can be summoned to court even two years after being freed from jail, he said.
Van der Sloot and the Kalpoes were arrested June 9. The brothers were released July 4 but were re-arrested last week. All three have denied any involvement in Holloway's disappearance.
Holloway, 18, disappeared after a night of eating, dancing and drinking. She was last seen leaving a nightclub with the three young men, hours before she was to catch a return flight to Alabama, at the end of a high school graduation trip.
Van der Sloot has admitted to being alone with her on a beach but insists he left her there alone, around 2 a.m., and did not harm her. Holloway has not been found, despite numerous and widespread searches.
Van der Sloot's father was arrested briefly in the case and released.
"I'm devastated," the missing teen's mother, Beth Holloway Twitty (search), said of the prospective release of the three suspects.
She and others have criticized the fact that Aruban authorities waited 10 days to arrest the young men last seen with her daughter.