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Man held in student's death.

Byline: Rebecca Nolan and Scott Maben The Register-Guard

CORVALLIS - Police have charged a man in a New Mexico jail with murdering Brooke Wilberger, the 19-year-old college student who vanished in Corvallis more than a year ago.

Joel Patrick Courtney, 39, was served with an arrest warrant for aggravated murder Tuesday at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Albuquerque, where he is being held on unrelated kidnapping and rape charges, Corvallis police Capt. Ron Noble confirmed Tuesday night.

Noble did not reveal how police connected Courtney to the disappearance of Wilberger, and said her body had not been found.

"We still don't know where Brooke is," he told The Associated Press.

Investigators planned to disclose "significant developments" in the investigation at a news conference this afternoon.

Wilberger's parents, who live in Veneta, did not return phone messages Tuesday. They and other family members recently have said they continue to hope and pray that Wilberger will be found alive.

A Brigham Young University student in Provo, Utah, Wilberger vanished May 24, 2004, from an apartment complex her sister and brother-in-law managed near the Oregon State University campus. She had been cleaning light fixtures outside.

Police found a pair of flip-flops and a bucket of soapy water in the parking lot. They said it looked like an abduction but that a lack of physical evidence made it hard to determine what happened.

Hundreds of volunteers helped search for Wilberger in the weeks after her disappearance, and the case attracted national attention. But they found no trace of her.

Courtney is awaiting trial on charges of first-degree kidnapping, rape and aggravated battery for an alleged attack on a foreign exchange student. That incident occurred six months after Wilberger's disappear- ance.

According to a Dec. 2, 2004, report in the Albuquerque Tribune, Courtney was jailed on charges of kidnapping a New Mexico foreign exchange student at knife point and forcing her into his car. There, he allegedly tied her up with a shoestring and gagged her before assaulting her, according to the paper, which cited a police report.

Interviewed for the article, a spokeswoman for the Albuquerque Police Department said: "This guy was a bad dude. ... We found out he had prior sex offenses in other states."

Courtney previously was charged with attempted rape and first-degree sex abuse in Oregon's Washington County stemming from an incident in January 1985, state records show. He pleaded guilty to first-degree sex abuse and received a three-month jail sentence and five years' probation.

Courtney violated probation and was sentenced to a minimum of 2 1/2 years in state prison, records show. How much time he served, if any, was unclear Tuesday night.

Courtney was also in Oregon early last year. He received a speeding ticket in Lincoln County on Jan. 20, 2004, and failed to appear in court for the violation. His address, according to the ticket, was in Beaverton.

Courtney also received a speeding ticket in La Grande in May 2004, the month Wilberger disappeared. He held a Florida driver's license showing a Cocoa Beach address at that time.

A Web site for the Albuquerque jail where Courtney is being held states that a "fugitive hold" was placed on him Tuesday. It also indicates that he is being held on $100,000 cash-only bail in the unrelated kidnapping incident.

Police have had few solid leads in the Wilberger case.

On the one-year anniversary of Wilberger's disappearance, and after receiving more than 5,000 tips involving some 500 "suspicious persons," the Corvallis Police Department admitted they were no closer to solving the case than they were on May 24, 2004.

"No, we're still at the same place," Noble said. "But it's important to us that we find Brooke."

In June, investigators released a description of a 1997 green Dodge Caravan that they thought might have been linked to the woman's abduction.

A man who identified himself as Brian had called 911 from his cell phone around the time of Wilberger's disappearance to report a green minivan being driven erratically in the area. The connection was lost before dispatchers could gather more information, police said. The man did not call back.

It was unclear Tuesday whether the break in the case was related to that minivan.

Since Wilberger disappeared, police have considered dozens of "persons of interest," eliminating them one by one.

Relatives of former suspect Sung Koo Kim are suing two cities, a county and nearly 40 police officers for $11 million. They claim that their home was searched illegally.

Kim was accused of stealing thousands of pairs of women's underwear from dormitories and apartments in Corvallis, Newberg, Forest Grove and Portland. He is in jail and awaiting trial in four counties.

Courtney grew up in Beaverton before moving to Albuquerque, where he lived with his wife and children, said his older sister, Dina McBride of Beaverton.

``He has a long history of having been involved with run-ins with the law ... and we feel that if he is found guilty that he needs to be held accountable,'' McBride said. ``Justice needs to be served.''

Reporter Bill Bishop and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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Title Annotation:Crime; A sex offender jailed in a New Mexico rape and kidnapping case is charged with the murder of Brooke Wilberger
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Aug 3, 2005
Words:856
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