GREAT FALLS (AP) — A Great Falls teen who had agreed to plead guilty to raping an 11-year-old girl broke away from sheriff's deputies escorting him to court and jumped over a courthouse railing, striking his head on the floor below, a witness said.
Kaleb Kuebler, 16, was in leg shackles and handcuffs Thursday morning when he got away from the officers on the courthouse's third floor and jumped over the railing. He landed on a second-floor tile floor, said Katie Kenneway, who witnessed the jump.
Kuebler was listed in critical but stable condition at Benefis Healthcare on Thursday. A spokeswoman said he was not listed in the patient system on Friday, possibly due to a confidentiality request.
Kenneway said one deputy caught Kuebler's leg shackle but that it slipped through the deputy's fingers.
"When he fell over, the first instinct is to look," she told the Great Falls Tribune. "I thought he was dead. It was horrible."
Sheriff Bob Edwards said his office interviewed witnesses and the deputies and determined that Kuebler's jump appeared to be intentional.
Kuebler and prosecutors had reached a plea agreement Wednesday recommending a sentence of 60 years in prison with 30 suspended if Kuebler entered an Alford plea. Under such a plea, a person does not acknowledge guilt but agrees prosecutors have enough evidence to gain a conviction.
District Judge Greg Pinski rejected the agreement, saying he wanted Kuebler to be held accountable.
"For the benefit of the victim, he should admit guilt. That's why I didn't take the Alford plea," Pinski said.
Kuebler then agreed to plead guilty in exchange for the same sentencing recommendation. Charges of kidnapping, aggravated assault, tampering with evidence and tampering with a witness were to be dismissed.
His hearing had been set for Thursday.
The girl told police she was walking home from school last October when a boy grabbed her hat. He ran into an alley, getting her to chase him. Police said the boy sexually assaulted the girl and choked her before he ran away.
Kuebler, who was 15 at the time of the crime, was initially charged in Youth Court but prosecutors successfully petitioned to move the case to adult court.