Effort begins to extradite Wilberger murder suspect

Effort begins to extradite Wilberger murder suspect
Joel Courtney, left, is the suspect in the murder of Brooke Wilberger.

CORVALLIS, Ore. (AP) - The prosecutor in the Brooke Wilberger murder case says he hopes to have the suspect in Oregon within 90 days to face trial and a possible death penalty.

Joel Courtney, 41, was sentenced Tuesday in New Mexico for sexual assault and kidnapping a foreign exchange student at the University of New Mexico.

The sentencing cleared the way for Benton County District Attorney John Haroldson to seek extradition for Courtney.

In Oregon, Courtney is charged with aggravated murder in the death of Brooke Wilberger, who was spending the summer after her freshman year of college with her sister in Corvallis when she disappeared in 2004.

"The Wilbergers and the state of Oregon have waited a long time for Courtney to face these charges," Haroldson told the Corvallis Gazette-Times.

Paperwork to extradite Courtney from New Mexico will go first to Gov. Ted Kulongoski, Haroldson said.

Based on his behavior in the New Mexico case, Haroldson said, Courtney is likely to contest extradition, in which case getting him to Oregon could take as long as a year.

A request from Kulongoski for extradition would go to New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who said Wednesday in a statement: "We will process this extradition as quickly as possible and to help bring peace to the Wilberger family."

Haroldson said he considered two possibilities for returning Courtney: a compact among the states can be used to transfer a criminal defendant quickly and the well-known extradition process.

"Provisions in the statute (interstate compact) can create issues, with regard to the prosecution, in death penalty cases," Haroldson said. "In this case, I will be seeking the death penalty."

Haroldson said the investigation is not finished.

"In certain respects, there is the criminal investigation, as related to the charges, then the investigation in regard to finding the body of Brooke Wilberger," Haroldson said. "It's certainly an important objective to find her body."

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)