Death penalty proves useful
The murder case against Joel Courtney demonstrates why it's useful to have the death penalty on the Oregon books even if it is rarely carried out.
The defendant, who now has pleaded guilty to aggravated murder for killing young Brooke Wilberger in 2004, had steadfastly refused to lead authorities to where he had left the body.
A Benton County grand jury charged him with aggravated murder, and District Attorney John Haroldson announced he would seek the death penalty. But all along, he held out the possibility that he would take the death penalty off the table in return for Courtney pleading guilty and telling authorities where he had left the body.
Plea negotiations along those lines finally proved successful, and on Monday Haroldson was able to announce Courtney's plea, his sentencing to life without possibility of parole, and the recovery of Brooke's remains.
An execution would have been fitting. But that turn of events would have been in the indefinite future and might never have taken place.
The appeals likely would have run their course for 10 years or more. The Oregon judicial system has shown no interest in bringing death penalty cases to a conclusion. We have 32 men on death row - one since 1989 - and no executions are expected in the foreseeable future.
Given the system, this is the better outcome. The Wilberger family gets closure on the horrible fate of their daughter, and the killer faces day after day behind bars for as long as his life holds out.
DA Haroldson, a former Linn County deputy prosecutor before taking the same job in Benton County and then winning election as the DA, deserves credit for handling this case. Under the circumstances he did the right thing. (hh)