AUBURN (CBS13) – The Vanderschoot family has lit many candles for their daughter Justine over the past 14 years. On Saturday night, they light more as they held another vigil to remember Justine, but this time, to also bring attention to the pending release of one of her killers.
In 2003, Justine Vanderschoot, then 17, was murdered by her boyfriend and his roommate. The two men took plea deals. By disclosing where the body was, they both avoid the death penalty.
The boyfriend, Danny Bezemer, then 18, was sentenced to 25 years to life. His roommate, Brandon Fernandez, then 21, was given 15 years to life. Both were given the possibility of parole.
Fourteen years have passed, and now Fernandez’s parole hearing is two weeks away. Justine’s family is fighting to keep him locked up.
“She was only 17. He served 14 years. What’s right about that?” Don Vanderschoot, Justine’s father, said at the start of Saturday’s night vigil, that was held at the park-and-ride parking lot near the Clipper Gap exit off of Interstate 80 in Auburn.
The two men allegedly tapped Justine’s phone, and in doing so, learned that Justine may have been considering breaking up with Bezemer. The duo is said to have strangled Justine and buried her alive in Applegate. Her body was found two weeks later.
The family considers Fernandez the real mastermind of the murder.
“Danny was a little soft. He was a follower, he wasn’t leader. Whereas Brandon, yes, he was a leader. And he could get people to follow him,” said Christine Vanderschoot, Justine’s older sister. “That’s why my family and I are fighting extra hard. We really do believe he was the number 1 plotter and planner behind the events that happened.”
Justine’s ashes sit at the entrance to the family’s house, in part, because of the Fernandez’s plea deal. But her parents consider Fernandez’s possible release – now a convicted murderer – a real threat to the community, who they describe as “manipulative.”
“He portrays himself as a good jail mate, or whatever they are called, and it’s something that he is good at. He can let you know that he is real good boy. But inside, he has had lots of trouble,” said Justine’s father. “This guy has shown no remorse. We will never know who the real perpetrator was.”
At the vigil, family and friends signed petitions that will be sent to the parole board, hoping to help block Fernandez’s release. In addition, some have written letters to the parole board asking the same.
Keeping Fernandez locked up is the only real justice the family says they will ever get.
“When is it enough? When should we call it good? Is it ever going to be good? He gets out of prison. Is she going to come through my front door? No,” said Don.
Fernandez’s parole hearing is set for September 1. The family will be on hand to give victim statements. They say their lawyer has new information that he will present at the hearing that they hope will keep Fernandez behind bars.