Courtney plea deal motivation: family

Courtney plea deal motivation: family »Play Video
Joel Courtney (left) with his attorney Steven Gorham. (File photo)

UNDATED - Joel Courtney agreed to the plea bargain that would put him in prison for the rest of his life for killing Brooke Wilberger but spare him from the death penalty because it included a provision to allow him to serve out his sentence near his family, an attorney for Courtney said Tuesday.

The bargain also included revealing the location of 19-year-old Wilberger’s remains who Courtney admitted to raping and killing over 5 years ago.

Steven Gorham said Courtney wanted to serve his life sentence in New Mexico, not Oregon, because he wanted to be near his wife and three children.

“I think they’re as much as any family is together,” said Gorham. “When someone is in prison, they’re together even though he raped and murdered someone.”

He said the plea bargain was much more to do with Courtney’s assurance - in writing – that he would stay in New Mexico rather than his desire to avoid the death penalty.

Gorham said he does not believe there are other victims and that Courtney is not a serial killer as some law enforcement has speculated. Gorham said the district attorney offered some sort of immunity if Courtney would come clean with other victims, but he said there weren’t any.

On Tuesday Gorham also gave a few more details about Courtney’s abduction of Wilberger and his time with her. He said Courtney bound Wilberger in the back of his green minivan at a McDonalds in Philomath after abducting Wilberger at her apartment complex in Corvallis.

Courtney then took Wilberger into the woods and spent much of the day there.

“He had conversations with her, went for walks in the woods with her, I’m sure scared her immensely,” said Gorham.

He said he is unsure if Courtney gagged Wilberger. “I’m sure [she was] trying her best to talk him out of whatever he might be thinking of doing and trying to talk him into letting her go,” he said.

Before nightfall Gorham said Courtney put Wilberger back in the car and drove back to Philomath and to the same McDonalds. He ordered them both something to eat and then drove back out into the woods to the previous location in the coast range of Benton County.

Gorham said Courtney was doing cocaine and at some point he ran out of drugs, which contributed to his volatility.

Gorham said the next morning Courtney beat Wilberger to death with a piece of wood or tree limb after sexually assaulting her and concealed her body under a fallen tree.

Late Tuesday afternoon Courtney’s sister, Dina Courtney McBride, released a statement were she said the family prayed often for the resolution of the case. “Father God, we ask if Joel is responsible for this that he would tell the truth and please let Brooke be found,” she wrote. “When I learned the truth had been revealed and Brooke’s body had been recovered, I wept.”

Court documents detail Courtney's activity before abducting Wilberger

Meanwhile, court documents shed new light on Courtney’s suspicious activity around the campus of Oregon State University just before he kidnapped Wilberger.

The newly released court document details how Courtney confronted a 20-year-old Oregon State University student and asked her “for directions to a fraternity”. The woman said she “got an odd feeling” and walked away.

Minutes later Courtney targeted another female student and asked her “for directions to an athletic building.” The woman, who was on her cell phone with her mother at the time “both ... sensed something was wrong.”

“They happened to be in an area that was a little more public than the area where Brooke Wilberger was,” said Benton County District Attorney John Haroldson Monday during a news conference.

In fact, according to the court records, an associate athletic director at OSU spotted Courtney’s van while Courtney spoke to the second woman and eventually the “van driver followed” him and then “turned right on 26th Street where Brooke Wilberger was.”

“He pulled the van around in a U-turn in order to block the view of Brooke Wilberger, so the van stood between her and the apartment complex,” Haroldson said.

It was in the parking lot of the Oak Park Apartments where Courtney kidnapped Wilberger at knife point.

The actual plea agreement in the case has been sealed, although a court clerk in Benton County said the judge may unseal it if it is requested.

KATU News has made that request.

Documents reveal Courtney's activities before Wilberger abduction