Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Joel Patrick Courtney

A Routine Check

During a routine background check, Albuquerque police learned that Courtney had failed to show for his court date in Newport.

Corvallis, Oregon Police Department patch
Corvallis, Oregon Police Department patch

The Newport officials, upon hearing of Courtney's situation, and recalling the persistently public efforts of the Wilberger team, referred Albuquerque to the Benton County (Corvallis) police.

And there the link was made.

Sung Koo Kim was removed from investigators' list as a suspect. He is currently awaiting trial on myriad theft charges, as his relatives are suing two cities, a county and nearly forty police officers for $11 million, claiming their home was searched illegally.

In February, 2005, a judge in New Mexico granted Corvallis police a search warrant for Courtney's DNAfingerprints, swabs of saliva and various hairs from his face and pubic area.

In May, Corvallis investigators asked the public for any information about a 1997 green Dodge Caravan.

They got it.

The van was recovered, though not in New Mexico and not in Oregon. Investigators are releasing no information about the van, fearing anything they say could compromise the case. No one wants this case compromised.

In July, the Benton County grand jury heard testimony from thirteen live witnesses, including Wilberger's family and investigators, and reports from three experts, including two FBI crime lab analysts and a physician. FBI forensic DNA examiner Rhonda Craig who works for the FBI Laboratory in Quantico, Virginia, testified by report as did FBI DNA examiner Constance Fisher.

The grand jury returned a 19-count indictment accusing Joel Patrick Courtney, 39 years old, of 14 counts of aggravated murder, alleged in alternative theories (in other words, one count for every theory as to how he may have murdered her), two counts of aggravated kidnapping in the first degree, one count of first-degree rape, one count of first-degree sexual abuse and one count of first-degree sodomy.

Benton County District Attorney Scott Heiser
Benton County District Attorney Scott Heiser

In Oregon, prosecutors do not need a body to secure a guilty verdict. And, according to Benton County District Attorney Scott Heiser, his office is ready to "pursue the case aggressively. Oregon law doesn't require recovery of the body of a murder victim." He considered Courtney's arrest to be a milestone in the case, yet only a first step in what promises to be a long legal process.

 

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