Placer County men arraigned on murder charge for girl's death

SACRAMENTO (AP) -- Two men were charged Friday with one count of murdering a Placer County teenager who had been missing for more than two weeks before authorities found her body Thursday.

Daniel Bezemer, the dead girl's boyfriend, and his roommate, Brandon Fernandez, pleaded not guilty after they were arraigned in the death of 17-year-old Justine Vanderschoot before Placer County Superior Court Judge Larry D. Gaddis.

The courtroom was filled with friends and relatives of the alleged victim, many of whom wore pink ribbons in her memory, Placer County Deputy District Attorney Tom Beattie said.

Vanderschoot's remains were found buried off a pathway in a grove of trees Thursday, Placer County Sheriff's Detective Robert McDonald said.

Information from Bezemer and Fernandez led investigators to the grave. An autopsy Friday positively identified the body, but the cause of death was still under investigation, McDonald said.

Public Defender Christopher Haskins will be representing Bezemer, 18, and the 21-year-old Fernandez will be represented by court-appointed attorney Mark Berg. After the arraignment, they were returned to the Placer County Jail, where they are being held without bond.

The Maidu High School junior was last seen by her family the evening of Sept. 1, Labor Day, when she went to bed after eating dinner with Bezemer and her family. Investigators believe that some time before 12:30 a.m. Sept. 2, Vanderschoot took her keys and her cell phone and drove away. Investigators believe she went to meet Bezemer. Her locked truck was found at a park-and-ride lot near the family's home on Sept. 3.

Police said Friday they have recovered two tools, a pick and a shovel, that could have been used to dig the grave. They were discovered at the home of one the suspect's relatives, McDonald said.

Police are now beginning to look into a possible motive and whether the alleged crime could have been premeditated.

McDonald said it's possible the grave was dug before the alleged murder.

"It just would have taken quite awhile to dig this hole, we believe, because of the firmness of the soil," McDonald said.

Bezemer and Fernandez are scheduled to return to court for an early settlement conference Oct. 27.


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