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Suspect's van seen in Corvallis

Published: Saturday, April 19 2008 12:49 a.m. MDT

PORTLAND, Ore. — The man accused of kidnapping and killing a Brigham Young University student four years ago was interested in Satanism as a boy and tried to sexually assault his sister and their cousin, according to new documents released in the case.

Joel Courtney, 41, is charged with kidnapping and aggravated murder in the May 2004 disappearance of Brooke Wilberger while she was working for her sister outside an apartment complex near Oregon State University in Corvallis.

The body of Brooke Wilberger, a 19-year-old Brigham Young University student, has never been found.

But court documents released Thursday provided details showing that Courtney was in Corvallis when Wilberger disappeared and that the green van he was driving was spotted by several people, including an OSU employee who identified him from a photo lineup.

Benton County District Attorney John Haroldson told The Oregonian after the documents were released that Wilberger's DNA was found inside the van.

When contacted by The Associated Press, Haroldson said he had not meant to speak on the record about the DNA evidence but could not deny what he told the Portland newspaper.

"I'm not going to speak to it further," Haroldson said.

Prosecutors have said they will seek the death penalty.

In court documents that KGW-TV obtained from Bernalillo County, N.M., Detective Michael Hughes noted in an affidavit that investigators had found a floorboard mat containing blond hair fibers from Courtney's van. There were also blond hairs in a hair tie inside a personal duffel bag that Courtney carried.

But there was no indication in those documents that the hairs came from Wilberger.

Courtney was extradited from New Mexico to Oregon early this month following his conviction last year in New Mexico for the unrelated sexual assault and kidnapping of a foreign exchange student at the University of New Mexico. He was sentenced to 18 years for that crime, which was remarkably similar to the Wilberger disappearance — a young blond woman with blue eyes abducted near a college campus.

An affidavit by Detective Shawn Houck of the Corvallis Police Department summarized the evidence that led investigators to the arrest, including witnesses who spotted his green van the day of the disappearance and telling Lincoln County Circuit Court staff in Newport that he was in Corvallis when he failed to appear for a drunken driving charge that day.

The affidavit also said that two days after the disappearance he sought emergency medical treatment for chest pains and high blood pressure "consistent with someone laboring under a high level of anxiety commonly produced after a major criminal event."

The document said that Courtney's sister said he began using drugs at age 11, spent time in juvenile detention at 15 and developed an interest in Satanism. She also said he tried to sexually assault her when he was 14 and she had to hit him on the head with a clock to stop him from raping her.

His cousin also said Courtney sexually assaulted her several times when she was between the ages of 12 and 17.

Courtney was staying with his wife's parents in Portland when Wilberger vanished. They told detectives that he left their home early the morning of her disappearance and did not return until late the following night.

His van was clean when he left and muddy when he returned. He told his in-laws he had been off the road and had slept in the van, according to the documents.

Courtney told them he had been the victim of a kidnapping and that the police were after him, and he left to drive to his wife's home in Rio Rancho, N.M., near Albuquerque, the court documents said.

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