tv Bringing Brooke Home MSNBC January 30, 2016 1:00am-2:01am PST
that road so many times. >> as investigators began checking out this new lead on joel courtney, charged four states away with abducting a blond, blue-eyed college coed, a call went out to brooke wilberger's family. they had waited more than six months for news, any news, about their daughter's disappearance. now there was a man in custody who they thought might be able to reunite them with their daughter, just as elizabeth smart had been returned to her family. >> what are you thinking when you hear this? >> actually, i had prayed so faithfully all fall that whoever had done this would make a mistake. and when i heard the news, i thought, they made a mistake. they tried it again. and no one else knew what i had prayed, because i hadn't told anyone else because it was always, find brooke, help us to find brooke. i guess that was a selfish prayer, to help whoever had done this make a mistake and i felt like, they made a mistake.
>> but if this mistake could help find brooke, investigators first had to find out all they could about this latest possible suspect. and specifically they wanted to know more about that suspect's ties to oregon. detectives quickly determined that joel courtney grew up in beaverton, a portland suburb about 75 miles from where brooke disappeared, but that had been 20 years before. police also knew he had lived in several different states. the question was, had courtney been anywhere near corvallis on the day of the kidnapping? there was one person who could answer that question and many more. her name? dina mcbride, joel courtney's older sister. she lived in portland. >> my first thought is, cute dimpled little blond-haired mischievous kid with a sweet little spirit and hilarious laugh. >> days before, corvallis police got that call from albuquerque
and heard joel courtney's name for the first time, dina received a call herself. it was from joel's wife with word of his arrest in new mexico. dina and her mother took in the news together. >> how did your mom react? >> she was horrified. you know, there were very few details, that she felt like the truth needs to come out. >> but the truth was hard to figure out in those first moments. the scowling man in the mug shot was hardly the joel his sister knew when he was little. >> i remember him coming home from the hospital. i remember him toddling. i remember all the classic childhood milestones and we were a very, very happy family. >> at some point did you see a shift? >> when he was probably 11-ish, he started hanging out with some older kids. i remember my mom backtracking and saying, i think that's when it really started. >> it was joel's drug use and before long, when joel became a teenager, more reason to worry.
>> he was starting to dabble in some satanism a lit bit and kind of explaining how much power it gave him and a sense of, you know, a rush of being in control or whatever, and he was pretty good at throwing a punch here or there. >> scare you? >> yeah, hurt me. yeah. >> so around the same time that he dabbles in satanism, he starts becoming physical? >> uh-huh. >> but as joel got older and more violent, his sister says he was handsome enough, charming enough, and smart enough to get away with a lot of bad behavior. >> at some point in time, it was the in thing to have iq testing in school. i remember not being as smart as i had hoped and hearing that he had a genius level iq. >> genius level? >> uh-huh. >> did he study a lot? did he read books? >> he loved to read books. but, no, he kind of got away with really good grades with very little effort, which seemed
monumentally unfair to me. >> joel courtney's luck would eventually run out. he had a string of arrests for shoplifting and other offenses and was in and out of juvenile detention until he was 18. that's when joel admitted beating and sexually assaulting a woman had he known in high school. he blamed the crime on drugs and alcohol and a judge sentenced courtney to probation. he never finished high school and worked various jobs as a fisherman in alaska and as a mechanic. he got married at 23 to rosie, who was from mexico. he and rosie had three children and eventually courtney seemed to settle down, savoring his role as a father and building a life in that home in an albuquerque suburb. >> what kind of father was he? >> he changed diapers. he got up in the middle of the night. he made lunches, he -- there are a lot of pictures of him on the ground wrestling with the kids and laying in the grass, looking at four-leaf clover kind of stuff.
just the kind of dad that we had. you know, the kind of dad who was involved and wanted to be there for his kids. >> but now at age 38, this seemingly loving father was facing the trial of his life. locked up, caught with a crack pipe and a knife, charged with kidnapping and sexual assault. given his checkered history, something, maybe intuition, the massive media coverage throughout oregon of a similar crime, a young, beautiful female college student snatched off the streets just months before, something compelled dina and her family to ask the question themselves, the very questions corvallis police were just beginning to look at. >> just the details that we heard about the case in new mexico, there were some similarities and -- >> so you thought to yourself -- >> could it be? no. i mean, you couldn't even say
time seemed to tick by so slowly during those long months when investigators were searching for clues in the disappearance of brooke wilberger. minutes, hours, days. but in early december 2004, more than six months after she went missing, it was as if the clock suddenly sped up. police in corvallis, oregon, were struck by the parallels between brooke's abduction and the crimes joel patrick courtney was accused of in albuquerque.
>> from our perspective, it's a signature crime. right next to the university of new mexico campus, young woman, attractive, broad daylight, abduction in a vehicle, drives away. yeah, we were real excited that we were on the right track at that point. >> by the time police learned joel courtney's name, joel's sister dina and her family had been thinking about the same connection for days. >> we couldn't even say the words out loud. we were up till the late hours in the morning going over the calendar thinking, was he missing then? what was going on? when did she go missing? what were the dates? could he have done that? >> did you call the police? >> i had surgery. we can't say yes for sure or no for sure. we decided to pray about it. >> what were your prayers? >> we really prayed that god would give us wisdom, that we
would make the right choices, that we would speak when we needed to speak and not speak when it was not wise. >> dina waited, saying nothing, until a week later, corvallis police, looking for information about her brother, called her. >> in that moment, do you know in your heart that he did something? >> in that moment i did not know that. i thought too many coincidences to automatically discount it. right? you can't just assume because he's your brother, somebody that you love, that he couldn't have, right? >> what dina told police was revealing. during their first interviews, she shared some dark, family secrets. when she was a teenager, her brother joel had attacked her. >> he would come in, in the middle of the night and put a hand around my neck and attempt
to sexually assault me. >> more than once? >> more than once, yeah. and i have had a great old-fashion wind up alarm clock that met his head. >> two more courtney family members would soon come forward, claiming that joel had raped or tried to rape them. >> the further we got into the investigation as far as the number of people we interviewed, the more sexual assaults came to light. >> and more pieces of the puzzle were coming together quickly. despite their troubled past, dina and joel had maintained a relationship over the years. joel's sister now showed police these photographs of joel and his family, not at their home in new mexico, but visiting dina's home in the portland suburbs, in may 2004, the very month brooke wilberger disappeared. joel, his wife rosie and three kids needed a place to stay. joel had gotten a job
supervising a cleaning crew, a job that meant he would be traveling all over the state of oregon. >> we were under the impression that he would be there for a couple of months. a lot of the time there would be -- you know, he would bow out fairly early on, i've got to do something for work. so it was mostly rosie and the kids with the rest of us. >> so he was traveling quite a bit? >> that was my understanding, yeah. >> and then this bombshell. may 24th, the day brooke was abducted, was one of those days when joel courtney was traveling. he had a court day, it turns out, over on the oregon coast on that drunken driving charge, but he never showed up. according to court records, he called the courthouse and said he was going to be late and that phone call was made from the very town where brooke disappeared. right here in corvallis. joel courtney then disappeared, for about 36 hours, before returning to dina's home in the portland suburbs. >> he walked through the door
and announced kind of loudly, you'll never believe where i've been. and i said okay, where were you? he said, i was kidnapped. there were these guys, there were guns and knifes, and we were in the woods and it was rainy and cold and there was a girl there and we were hiding and there was blood and it was awful. >> at the time, dina chalked it up to joel's chronic drug abuse. >> he's delusional? >> uh-huh. >> you just think he's coming off some bad drugs? >> uh-huh. >> you don't call 911? >> no. >> dina says she didn't feel like she was in danger in that moment, so she did not call authorities. but all those months later, sitting with investigators, she suddenly realized how crucial that strange conversation with joel might have been. >> just as i was saying it, it occurred to me, oh, my word. could he have been -- was he
talking about that? and she remembered the very next day after brooke disappeared, her brother joel would visit his doctor in portland, complaining of chest pains and anxiety but all of this information, while damning, was nothing more than circumstantial evidence of joel's potential involvement in brooke's disappearance. without brooke or if she were dead, her body, the detectives had no physical proof linking joel to the crime. until, that is, police learned what joel was driving the day brooke disappeared. a green dodge caravan with minnesota license plates supplied by the cleaning company he was working for. >> the minute you hear green minivan with a minnesota plate, somebody remembers that was one of your tips? >> absolutely. >> two separate tips pulled from the database of thousands called into police. the first, 9:30 am just an hour before and 100 yards north of where brooke was kidnapped. a blond osu student said a white
male adult in a green minivan approached her and opened the back of his van to look for a map. when she saw a blanket on the floor, she rushed off, telling the man she was late for a class. then a universal athletic official called and reported a man in a dodge caravan, possibly green, with minnesota plates, asking a female student for directions in the stadium parking lot, in close proximity to where wilberger was abducted. the witness was later asked to identify the man in this photo lineup and picked out joel courtney. >> this was dynamite to us. this told us, this is our guy at the moment. we needed to focus on him and find the van. that's our one piece of physical evidence we've got to get now. >> and that's exactly what the fbi did. agent joe boyer found the van in washington state and had it taken apart, piece by piece, and shipped to an fbi lab across the country.
>> we knew that if we were going to prove that joel courtney was responsible for this, the best chance we had was to find evidence of brooke being in the van. >> the wilberger family was informed. they wanted to know the truth, but were almost afraid to discover more about joel courtney and his crimes. >> i googled him and passed it on to you. >> you googled him? >> sure, yeah. >> what was it like to see his face? >> i just looked at him and at that point was just a numb feeling. even then, i didn't feel hatred. it was just -- i was all about getting brooke back. i want to know what you did and where she is. >> but neither the wilbergers nor investigators nor courtney's sister could ever have guessed how they would get the answer to the question where was brooke? coming up, evidence finally implicates joel courtney in brooke's kidnapping. >> that's the smoking gun. that's the nail in the coffin.
courtney had emerged as a suspect in brooke wilberger's disappearance, brooke's mom had desperately tried to hold on to the hope that her daughter was still alive. but cammy wilberger's heart was finally giving in to what her head was telling her. >> i just had this sick feeling, even though i would never give up hope, you know, my motherly hope was always there. i knew deep down that she was probably gone. >> and it would be another mom in another state who would move the story forward. joel courtney had already been interviewed by the fbi but refused to answer any questions. and when shown her photo, denied ever knowing brooke. but when confronted by his own mother, courtney came perilously close to a confession. >> she actually asked him, point blank, joel, did you do this? and he said, it's not really what it seems like and i'll never be held accountable for this.
>> he said that to your mother? >> uh-huh. >> they'll never hold me accountable for this? >> uh-huh. >> why did he say that? >> because i don't think he feels the need to be held accountable for the things that he does. >> power? >> yeah, power, and doesn't have to play by the same rules that other people have to. >> the rules. to investigators, it did seem like joel courtney thought he was playing a game. the inmate whose sister said he had above-average intelligence knew that without physical evidence or brooke's body, it would be nearly impossible for investigators to charge him with murder. by the spring of 2005, fbi scientists were working feverishly, examining every inch of that green minivan joel once drove, hunting for dna evidence. on the day marking the first anniversary of brooke's abduction, her family and police dutifully held a news conference. privately, the family had held the secret for months that police had a strong suspect and that brooke was likely no longer alive.
yet, in public, they held fast. >> you still have that hope, though. you don't give that up. >> one year after brooke wilberger disappeared, her tattered picture is still posted on street signs in corvallis. >> but as local stations played the story of a grim anniversary, some real news was about to break. >> we were heading back to eugene and we got a call and they said, how far out of town are you? and we said well, not too far. they said, could you come back? >> unbelievably, that very day, on the one-year anniversary of brooke's disappearance, fbi special agent supervisory joe boyer received a long-awaited call from the lab. >> they told me, you're not going to believe what we found, and i said what is that? they said we found joel courtney's dna in the van. and i said, well, that's good, but that doesn't quite get us there. and they said, we also found brooke wilberger's dna in the carpet of the van. >> it was the physical evidence they had been waiting for. beneath the backseat in the carpet, they found a mixture of
male and female dna, belonging to joel courtney and brooke wilberger. >> what happens here at corvallis police headquarters when you find that out? >> it's sort of an amazing day. that's the smoking gun. that's the nail in the coffin. >> the wilbergers return to corvallis to get the news themselves. >> they said, we got a dna confirmation that brooke's dna and his dna were in the van together. >> did you breakdown? >> no. you get up for certain things. you just steel yourself for that. it was like yes, you know? and then, of course, i sobbed the whole way home. >> the dna evidence revealed details no mother should ever have to hear and no witness had yet disclosed. >> it was the nature of the dna evidence which told an even bigger story. >> benton county oregon district attorney john haroldson. >> the dna evidence was in the form of bodily fluids which were
commingled, that told us a story in terms of what had occurred in that van. >> the commingled dna indicated brooke had been raped. so joel courtney was charged with that crime, in addition to kidnapping and murder. >> so you've got him in corvallis, near the point of abduction, you've got evidence that she was in his van, that he assaulted her in that van. the only thing you don't have is brooke wilberger? >> yes. >> you charge him with the death penalty? >> yes. i believe it was justified due to the evidence we had before us. >> news of the indictment hadn't come out yet. joel courtney sat in a new mexico court hearing on that case and he has served with the oregon charges. >> they came to court, gave it to me, i gave it to the defense attorney who gave it to courtney in the jury box with other inmates. and he's laughing as he's reading death penalty, death penalty. and he's laughing. >> he's laughing? >> he's laughing and he's showing it off to all of the other inmates like this is a
badge of honor somehow. >> what does that tell you? >> we read him exactly right. this is something that he's proud of. i think he felt at that time, particularly because he knew in that case he knew they didn't have the body, this was something that he could enjoy because it wasn't going to affect him in the long term. >> and from that day forward, joel courtney did everything that he could to delay and disrupt his own case. he knew that the charges here in new mexico of kidnapping and rape would have to be dealt with before he could ever be sent back to oregon. so he did all could to turn the proceedings here into a farce. that meant he sometimes didn't communicate with his own legal team. he even fired one of his own attorneys and at other times he refused to show up for court appearances, and then finally joel courtney claimed he was mentally incompetent to stand trial. >> once that was brought up, when he would come into court, he would come in all bowed down, he would shuffle, only look at the floor. his whole demeanor had changed
because now he wanted to be incompetent. because we couldn't try him. >> what did you think was really going on? >> it was totally an act. it was absolutely an act. >> nonetheless, had he to be and tested in new mexico and the fbi worried that courtney would try to flee. >> i was concerned for the entire time he would be looking for an opportunity to escape. he was fluent in spanish. i felt that he was going to head south, cross the border where he'd live before and disappear into mexico and make it very difficult for us to find him. >> as the fight over whether or not courtney was competent to stand trial dragged on through 2006, brooke's mom was struggling. for her, the mission to find her daughter was no longer a rescue mission but one of recovery and her hopes were being threatened by what many saw as the courtroom shenanigans of joel courtney. >> i can remember one time i was near the edge. i knew that if they found him
mentally incapable that that was a black hole for us. because we would never get brooke. he would never come to oregon. he would be there forever, you know, playing this game. >> it was nearly a year before a new mexico judge finally ruled in january 2007, nearly three years after brooke disappeared, that joel courtney was competent to stand trial. >> we were on our way to san francisco and we got a phone call and he said, they found him mentally stable. and we got out of the car, the girls and i, and did a dance around the car. i just felt like the world was lifted and i didn't realize how close i was, maybe, you know -- >> close to what? >> to just a breaking point. until i felt that being lifted. and then it was like, okay, we can do this. >> later that year, in september 2007, joel courtney would
finally plead guilty to kidnapping and sexually assaulting that university of new mexico student he snatched off the street. the young woman who somehow escaped. at his sentencing, another circus. >> it didn't take long for joel patrick courtney to tell district judge kenneth martinez exactly what he thinks of him. >> i have no respect for this court. this is -- you're the rudest person i have ever met. >> i do believe, sir, that you are, again, attempting to delay this matter as you have repeatedly. >> the judge sentenced joel courtney to 18 years in prison but not before courtney took a parting shot. >> i would spit in your face if i was close enough. >> time had finally run out for joel courtney. he would soon be back on his way to oregon where investigators were ready for his head games. their goal, the same as it had been for years, find brooke. >> there was a degree of vigor. you are not going to win, joel courtney.
joel courtney was finally in an oregon courtroom, pleading not guilty to murder charges. it was the spring of 2008, a full four years after brooke wilberger had disappeared. the man charged with stealing a beautiful 19-year-old from her loved ones had also stolen years from their lives. he had manipulated the legal system, forced delays in new mexico to avoid returning to oregon to face charges. if he were convicted now, it could mean the death penalty. >> did you think that he deserved to die? >> it didn't matter. it was -- we know the end result, how did it happen and where is she? and so it wasn't a feeling of revenge or retribution. it was just, okay, what now, how do we find her and recover her? >> the family simply needed to know. remember, thousands of searchers had covered dozens of square miles in every direction from oregon's coastal range of
mountains to its rocky coast without any success. joel courtney had not said a word to police or prosecutors since asking for a lawyer years before. the man who had studied law books in jail had to know that despite dna evidence linking him to brooke's rape and murder, without a body, the prosecution's case would be much harder to prove. so if courtney knew where to find brooke, he was keeping the secret to himself. d.a. john haroldson. >> you can't appeal to this man to just do the right thing, can you? >> i never saw that as an incentive for him. i felt that the incentives were probably going to be more based from the perspective of a narcissist. >> selfish? >> yes. what can you do for me versus
what can i do for society. >> and so the prosecutor thought, what could be more precious to a narcissist than his own life? after consulting with the wilbergers, the d.a. offered courtney a deal. admit to brooke's murder, reveal the location of her body, and avoid the death penalty in an exchange of life in prison without patrol. >> actually, that's what we hoped for, because the death penalty would draw it out years. >> but you wanted something in return? >> we wanted brooke. we wanted her remains. >> why was that so important to the family? >> we just wanted her back. we just wanted her still. we just wanted to bring her home. clearly, not the way that we had hoped, but i think it was just important to us to have her back, just to get her back. >> so the prosecutor went to courtney with the deal and true to form, the inmate made everyone wait again, for months. until his defense lawyers delivered the word. >> joel courtney was not interested.
he did not return a counteroffer. he outright rejected our offer. >> feels like holding her family hostage in some ways, you know. >> courtney's sister dina watched all of this unfold, knowing a trial would mean she would have to testify about the times joel tried to rape her as a teenager, about his unexpected visit to her oregon home just before brooke's abduction, and about his incriminating, presumably drug-induced statements. dina knew her testimony could help put her own brother on death row. >> my mom and i actually talked about this before she got sick and talked about, you know, we've always said that we believe in the death penalty and here it is -- >> your brother. >> -- my brother, her son. and so if you believe in it for some person that you don't know,
does that still hold true if it's your loved one? and we did a lot of thinking and praying about it and we came to the conclusion that, yeah, we still did. >> you would have been okay with him getting the death penalty? >> i think so, yeah. as horrible and heartbreaking as that is, he did take a life. right? as i think about, you know, what happens to him impacts his wife and his children and always will, but ultimately justice and truth have to prevail. >> dina says she was ready to testify but what she didn't know was that the pressure was building on her brother to find another way out. in new mexico, the courts rejected his appeals and life in oregon's jails was not pleasant for a notorious inmate whose crimes against women were well known.
more than once courtney was beaten by fellow inmates as you can see in this jailhouse video in which courtney is being tended to by medical staff after one particularly brutal beating. then there were new charges of assault after courtney threw a fax machine at a prison doctor who wouldn't give him what he wanted. >> that was the very beginning of the end. >> why do you say that? >> we knew then he was frustrated. he was feeling it. it was getting close because he threw the fax machine because he couldn't get some anti-anxiety medication. so we knew that he was feeling very anxious. >> but still no sign joel courtney was willing to reveal the location of brooke's body. the prosecutor was fed up. he was ready for a trial. >> if you go to trial at that point, can you win? >> yes. >> so you don't need to settle? >> no. >> the only reason to settle is to help the family, to get brooke's body?
>> we were prepared to go to trial and to secure a conviction and to pursue the death penalty. >> still, the judge wasn't quite ready to move on. he asked both sides to try one last time to settle the case before trial. during weeks of tense talks with joel courtney's attorneys, the prosecutor finally discovered the one incentive that might appeal to courtney and give the wilbergers their daughter back. courtney wanted out of oregon. he might admit to murder and reveal the location of brooke's remains if he could serve his prison time near his own family, in new mexico. >> the wilberger family quickly agreed. anything, they thought, to get brooke back. >> we needed to have the approval of the oregon governor and we needed to have the approval of the new mexico governor. those were the two final pieces. >> you would think they would give their approval. >> we were becoming extremely concerned that this process was taking so long that joel courtney was going to change his mind and walk away, and we
desperately needed that approval and we needed it now. >> but while oregon's governor signed off on the deal almost immediately, new mexico's did not. brooke's family couldn't believe it. >> i was frustrated to think that something like that could stop this whole process that had gone so far. >> you've come so far. >> and we had gotten so close and here we were at this point and then to think that it could all fall apart because of that. >> so brooke's mom decided to make a personal plea to the governor of new mexico to try to get her daughter back. >> this one was unusual. i wanted full details and i wanted to be sure that i did the right thing. >> coming up -- >> i said that we had gone through a lot already. >> you're appealing to their hearts? >> i was. >> the emotional plea from brooke's mother for the deal that would finally solve the mystery, where was brooke.
so many years had passed and now that the deal was nearly done that might allow brooke wilberger's family to bring her body home, could it all fall apart at the last minute? brooke's suspected killer, joel courtney, had agreed to tell investigators where brooke's body was if he could spend the rest of his life not in an oregon prison, but in new mexico. oregon's governor was set to sign the agreement. it was now up to new mexico governor bill richardson who hesitated. you're talking about a convicted rapist and a man who's accused of a heinous murder. imagine you must have thought, i
don't know if i want this person in our state? >> well, that's true. he was a very bad guy and i said to my staff, let's be sure of all the facts. let's be sure that we're doing the right thing. >> the governor wanted to hear from brooke's family. brooke's mother called the state capitol and spoke to a top aide. do you remember the exact words that you used in that phone call? >> i remember that i said we had gone through a lot already and that we were hoping that this could be the end of it and that we would just hope that they would consider it. >> you're appealing to their hearts? >> i was. >> how critical was that phone call, that personal phone call from the wilberger family to your office? >> well, it was absolutely critical. as long as there's life imprisonment, as long as the family of brooke wilberger felt that this would bring closure, i
was comfortable in signing this agreement. >> it was done. the word police in corvallis had been waiting for. >> i think we were all kind of on pins and needles for several days there. >> that call finally comes? >> yeah. i remember learning that the document was signed, the plea was done. now it's a matter of, we've got to find a way to get from him where she actually is. >> you know, it was almost an excitement. that's a strange word to think of, or to use, but we thought of this for so long, you know, of this coming to pass, of actually -- i don't know what we were expecting. >> what had happened to brooke? her family and investigators who had spent more than five years trying to answer that question would, in the coming days, get their first details from her killer, joel courtney. courtney's lawyers relayed the story to the d.a., who then told brooke's family. >> i thought everything had been difficult until that time but when he told us the details of the crime, it was the first time
that i heard some of them and it was all i could do to look there and look straight ahead just kept thinking, you can get through this day. you can get through this day. >> the story told by joel courtney was this. he said that morning in may, he was high on cocaine. when he drove up to brooke in the parking lot in his green van, asked for help delivering a package and when she came closer, he pulled out a knife and pulled her into the van. brooke began screaming as he tore her out of her flip-flops. from there, courtney said he drove west toward the town of philomath. he kept her tied up in the van for hours, even going through a mcdonald's drive through, he said, doing more drugs. before night fell he raped brooke and when she fought back, he killed her by bludgeoning her in the head with a piece of wood before concealing her body in the forest. >> but to know that she fought, you know, which didn't surprise us -- it was just a really difficult time and very emotional, i think, for all of
us as a family. >> and in addition to those details, joel courtney provided the most critical piece of information, what brooke's family and investigators had been waiting for. >> he drew a rough hand sketched map that he says depicts where he took her. >> do you know this location? >> it's not too far away. >> detectives drove from the police department passed the apartment complex where brooke was abducted west five miles through the small town of philomath and then five miles further off the roadway on to a logging road shown on the map. >> had you been there? >> not precisely. >> close by searching? >> absolutely. >> ten miles is so close by. >> yeah, but it may as well be an eternity. because in a ten-mile radius from where she was abducted from, there are thousands of potential locations.
rather frustrated. >> did you think he lied? >> well, that certainly crossed our mind that he lied. >> the team called it a night. but the next day they went back with more details supplied by joel courtney. >> okay. it's about 9:40 a.m. on september 19th. >> and with the help of a cadaver dog, through heavy timber, just a few hundred yards off that highway -- >> chief deputy medical examiner came back and said, i think we found her. >> on a hillside investigators found some clothing, including a sweatshirt and before long small flags sadly marked several spots where human remains had been recovered. one of oregon's most timeless mysteries had apparently been solved. >> i certainly can't sit here and tell you that i wasn't choked up a few times. yeah, there were emotional times there. >> but it would take time to identify the remains so searchers told the district attorney about one particular item found on that hillside. they wanted him to ask brooke's
family about it. >> he texts me and said, can you describe brooke's watch? >> that was the watch that you gave her for christmas? >> uh-huh. >> that beautiful watch that brooke had wanted so badly, one one of the last gifts cammy would ever buy for her daughter now signaled the time had come. >> so i described the watch and he said, we found her. it was like having the first day and six years and then the snowball just came down on top of you. everything landed on you. >> brooke's parents then told the rest of the family. the wait was over. >> when she just said the words, they found brooke, it was -- i didn't feel excitement at all and it wasn't what i thought i would feel. i just sat there and i cried and i cried. that hope of her coming home alive was kind of torn from me. >> in that moment i felt such a powerful wave of emotion and heaviness in my heart.
as a human being, as a parent, i was just personally really, really struck at that point with what that really meant for the family. that the dream of an elizabeth smart miracle would be dashed forever. >> the next day joel courtney pleaded guilty to one count of aggravated murder and was sentenced to life in prison without parole. >> do you remember that day? >> i just remember thinking, why would you have done that to that precious child? i can't imagine holding out for that long without needing to come forward and say, this is the truth. and here is your precious baby. >> after sentencing, most of brooke's family paid a brief visit to the site where brooke's remains were found. >> i could hardly breathe and it was wooded and shaded and someone made the comment that, you know, it was a beautiful peaceful place and i thought, it
would be if your daughter hadn't been murdered here. >> at the corvallis library, a number of police agencies gather at the end of a five-year effort. >> and as the news broke that day, brooke's mother stepped to the podium to say thank you, not only to thank those investigators that had worked so hard towards this day but also in a moment of incredible grace, to thank brooke's killer. >> it might be hard for you to understand but at this time we just really feel gratitude. even to mr. courtney, that he could see fit to tell us where he left brooke. and for our family, what happens to him, we are thankful that justice was served and that he will not have the opportunity for parole but now he can go on with what's left of his life and we want to strengthen our family and to go on with our life. >> did it surprise you to hear
mrs. wilberger family say thank you to joel courtney? >> it didn't surprise me. they are a giving and caring family. you can only hate for so long. at some point as people we have to be able to get beyond that. >> people always throw the world closure around. >> when people use that term, they are trying to be helpful and comforting. but i think in the death of anyone there's no closure. >> it is the end of a horrible ordeal, one that lasted much longer that it needed to. for brooke's killer, joel courtney, a lifetime of solitude awaits at the penitentiary of new mexico. >> you have no sympathy for this man? >> no. i think he's an animal. i hope he feels trapped, caged, defeated, weak. he's been beaten at his game and, like it or not, accountable. >> and many wonder, would joel courtney have been caught if a waitress and mom in new mexico
named dara hadn't taken the time to save another woman from an unknown fate. >> what would have happened if dara hadn't stopped? >> the victim would be dead. i have no doubt that he would have grabbed her again and we never would have found her. >> and for brooke wilberger's family, they keep this wrist watch of brooke's along with their memories knowing that time is healing but only to a point. >> i don't think that i could be 80 years old and have my entire life behind me and i don't think that i will ever reflect on what happened to her and be okay with it, you know, time is not going to make that okay. >> she was the person you wanted to be or be like. she emulated everything that was good and she was my sister and that was -- it's just -- it was a really neat thing. and that's all for this now.
i'm ann curry. for all of us at nbc news, thanks for joining us. due to mature subject matter, viewer discretion is advised. msnbc takes you behind the walls of america's most notorious prisons into a world of chaos and danger. now, the scenes you've never seen, "lockup: raw." 90% of prison life is boring. it's that other 10% that we worry about as producers. the safety of the crew. we take great precaution to make sure that we can do everything possible to protect our crews.