Man pleads guilty to murder and reveals site of student’s remains

By Calvin Palmer

A man pleaded guilty today to the murder of college student five years after she disappeared.

Joel Courtney, 43, pleaded to the aggravated murder of Brigham Young University sophomore Brooke Wilberger and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole after entering the plea in Marion County Circuit Court in Salem.

The 19-year-old blonde student vanished in May 2004 from an apartment building near the Oregon State University campus in Corvallis.

She was working at her summer job scrubbing lighting fixtures outside an apartment complex managed by her sister when she disappeared. Nothing but her flip-flop sandals were left behind.

Courtney pleaded guilty and also revealed the location of Wilberger’s remains to avoid a possible death sentence, said Benton County District Attorney John Haroldson.

Wilberger’s family had said they would support a plea deal if Courtney would reveal the location of  her remains.

Courtney was convicted of kidnapping and raping a foreign exchange student at the University of New Mexico before he was extradited to Oregon.

The victim of that attack resembled Wilberger — young, pretty and blonde.

Wilberger, the cheerful, smart and beautiful daughter of a loving family, had just completed her freshman year at Brigham Young after graduating in 2003 from Elmira High School.

A massive search that included family, friends and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints turned up nothing, and investigators struggled to find a lead.

The first major break in the case came in 2004 when an Albuquerque police detective made a call to Oregon to check on Courtney’s criminal record.

Evidence quickly accumulated indicating Courtney was in Corvallis the day of Wilberger’s disappearance.

After his return to Oregon, Courtney was also charged with attempted murder, attempted kidnapping and attempted rape involving two former Oregon State students the same day Wilberger disappeared.

[Based on a report by the Associated Press.]

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