GREAT FALLS, Mont. - A teenager who pleaded guilty to raping an 11-year-old girl as she walked home from school last year was sentenced to 75 years in the Montana State Prison.
Ten years of Kaleb Kuebler's sentence was suspended, but the 16-year-old also must register as a sex offender and complete treatment before he is eligible for parole, Judge Greg Pinski of Cascade County District Court said Wednesday.
According to court documents, Kuebler approached the girl as she walked home from school in October 2012. He stole her hat, lured her into an alley, assaulted and raped her. The girl went to her grandparents' house and reported the assault, spurring a daylong police manhunt for a suspect. Kuebler was apprehended after officers matched him to the description the victim provided.
Fifteen at the time of the crime, Kuebler would have been tried as an adult because of the serious nature of the charges against him if he had not pleaded guilty.
The victim, now 12 and in the seventh grade, testified briefly at Wednesday's sentencing.
"I felt like I was going to die," she said, as Kuebler stared down at the defendant's table. "We never thought this was going to happen to me. We thought I was safe.
"I want him to go away for a long time," she said.
Pinski stepped down from his bench to face the girl at the end of her testimony.
"You're very brave," he told her.
During the assault, Kuebler had demanded her address and threatened further harm if she reported the incident.
Earlier, her therapist recommended the girl have weekly therapy sessions until she reaches adulthood. She clung to a stuffed Bugs Bunny toy as she watched the proceedings.
The case took a bizarre turn shortly after Kuebler signed an agreement pleading guilty to one count of sexual intercourse without consent in September of this year.
While being taken to the hearing where his guilty plea was set to be formalized, he jumped over a railing on the third floor of the Cascade County Courthouse, falling 30 feet and landing on his head on the second-floor rotunda. He was hospitalized for some time before being returned to detention.
While awaiting trial, he also had assaulted a fellow inmate, Pinski said, beating that victim nearly to death.
Much of the hearing turned to an examination of Kuebler's own childhood, which was said to involve physical and emotional abuse at the hands of his now-deceased mother, who he lived with until age 10.
"She was just cruel," testified Sandra Kuebler-Riggs, Kaleb Kuebler's paternal grandmother. "I basically thought she was a sociopath."
Shanna Bulik-Chism, who administers the Cascade County Juvenile Detention Center, also testified on Kuebler's behalf. He was slapped, hit, kicked and locked in closets and often went to school unclean, she said.
Though he was 15 when she started working with him, she said she thinks his emotional maturity was two or three years younger.
"Kaleb is a broken boy," Betty Carlson, his public defender, said after the hearing. "He's a poster child for a kid who fell through the cracks in the system."
Kuebler, who sat silently throughout the proceedings, made only a brief statement at the hearing.
"I know what I did was wrong," he said. "In a weird way, my attempt at suicide was trying to make up for what I did."
Pinski's judgment was harsher than the terms of the nonbinding plea agreement Kuebler had signed, which recommended he receive a 60-year sentence in the state prison with 30 of those suspended as probation in the community.
Instead, he sentenced Kuebler to 75 years with 10 suspended. He also will be forced to pay $135,000 in restitution to cover the victim's therapy expenses and will be required to complete a sex-offender treatment program before being eligible for any sort of community release.
If released, he would be required to remain in a sex-offender treatment program for the remainder of his life. He also will be designated a Tier II sex offender, required to register as a sex offender in the state where he will live for 25 years after he is released from prison.
"It is very clear to this court that the public will not be protected unless Mr. Kuebler is incarcerated for a lengthy term," Pinski said, citing a "substantial lack of impulse control that reveals itself in horrific violence."
"It is terribly unfortunate that Mr. Kuebler's life went so wrong, so early," the judge said.
The victim's mother, not identified by the Tribune to protect the girl's identity, spoke briefly to Kuebler during the hearing:
"You won't take her spirit from her. She's a strong little girl," the woman said. "God forgive me, but you deserve everything and need a lot of help."
She was satisfied with the sentence.
"Now I know my daughter can go on living her life and not be afraid anymore," she said after the hearing's close.