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Teen's family waits for justice

Daughter's accused killer will be tried in New Mexico first

(Corvallis) Gazette-Times

It's been more than a century since British statesman and prime minister William E. Gladstone noted "Justice delayed is justice denied." Gladstone said this to urge British courts to swiftly mete out justice to the accused so they would not have to suffer unduly under a legal cloud.

But in the case of the state of Oregon v. Joel Patrick Courtney, it is Oregon that will have to cool its heels for what may be yet another year while the wheels of justice grind along in New Mexico, where the accused killer of Brooke Wilberger faces unrelated, separate charges of kidnapping and rape.

A New Mexico judge has ordered Courtney to undergo a mental health evaluation regarding those charges, and that could take months to complete.

It has been almost a year since Benton County authorities charged Courtney with the May 2004 kidnapping, sexual assault and aggravated murder of Wilberger, 19. The Veneta teenager had just finished her freshman year of college when she disappeared on a sunny morning while cleaning lampposts at an apartment complex near Oregon State University.

When the charges against Courtney related to the Wilberger case were filed last August, Courtney already had been in jail in New Mexico for months in connection with the knifepoint kidnapping and rape of an exchange student in November 2004. — But it doesn't matter which crime Courtney is alleged to have committed first, only which jurisdiction arrested and charged him first.

The Wilbergers have been brave and patient. They were steadfast in keeping Brooke's image before the public as they held out hope that somehow they would be reunited with their daughter. They thanked the community of Corvallis, and they recently held a memorial to celebrate her life.

They deserve answers regarding Courtney's involvement in their daughter's fate. They deserve an end to their public ordeal.

This shouldn't be a jurisdictional matter, but it often is, especially in such high-profile cases.

Although we can understand why it is important to safeguard legal proprieties, there is no reason why the mental health evaluation and legal proceedings couldn't be expedited in light of the severity of the charges and the pending litigation on an unsolved mystery in Oregon.

However, legal procedures are an elaborate chess game. Delay is a tactic that often works to the defense's benefit. Specifically, Courtney is better off, jailed and alive in New Mexico, facing trial for non-capital crimes, than being swiftly adjudicated and extradited to Oregon.

Here, he faces 14 possible chances at the death penalty, based on legal scenarios that include 14 charges of aggravated murder.

Regardless, we must be patient, even if our patience is the only thing that's being tried.