SEATTLE – The trial of a man accused of horrifically raping and stabbing a lesbian couple began without him Monday, after a judge barred him for repeatedly interrupting pretrial hearings with profane outbursts.
Isaiah Kalebu, 25, was chained in a restraint chair in a room on a different floor of the courthouse after King County Superior Court Judge Michael Hayden took the unusual step of barring him.
Kalebu sat in a heavy suicide-protection smock and a neck brace and he watched the proceedings by closed-circuit television. An apparent attempt on his own life landed him at a Seattle hospital on the eve of the trial, but a prosecutor called it a "suicide gesture" rather than a serious attempt.
Defendants have a right to be present at all stages of their trial, but can forfeit that through disruptive behavior.
Kalebu is charged with aggravated murder, attempted murder, rape and burglary in the random attack on Teresa Butz and her partner at their home in Seattle's South Park neighborhood.
The judge has said he will reconsider allowing Kalebu in the courtroom if he promises to behave. Defense attorneys said that Kalebu asked Monday to attend opening statements, but jail staff declined to relay that request to them or to the court — a development one of his lawyers, Michael Schwartz, described as troubling.
A jail spokesman did not return a call seeking comment.
Even if Kalebu attends the trial, he could be forced to wear an electroshock sleeve, which could be activated by a deputy if he tries to attack anyone in the courtroom.
Hayden told jurors before opening statements that whether Kalebu is present has no bearing on his guilt or innocence.
Kalebu was arrested after he was identified using DNA evidence and surveillance video from an earlier unsolved burglary at the city hall in the suburb of Auburn. The two-hour-long attack on Butz and her partner kept their neighborhood on edge for days until Kalebu's capture.
Butz was credited with helping her partner escape when she kicked the attacker off a bed and threw a metal table into a window through which she climbed. She collapsed and died in the street as stunned neighbors tried to help. She was naked and covered in blood from having her throat cut and heart stabbed.
Senior deputy prosecutor Brian McDonald told the jurors that much of the testimony and evidence in the case would be difficult to hear and see.
"But what I suggest won't be difficult is determining that the crimes occurred, and the defendant is the person who committed them," he added.
The couple, who was planning their commitment ceremony, was asleep when they found Kalebu standing over them with a large chef's knife, telling them, "Shut up, I won't hurt you," McDonald said. Kalebu came in through an open window, he said.
Kalebu raped the women repeatedly as he held the knife to their necks, McDonald said. When he started to slash their throats, Butz — just 5-foot-2 — kicked the 6-foot-tall suspect off the bed and created a diversion that allowed her partner to escape and seek help, authorities said.
Her partner was covered in so much blood that she had trouble opening the front door to escape, the prosecutor said. Before Butz died, she told a neighbor: "He told us if we did what he asked us to do, he wouldn't hurt us. He lied, he lied."
The first witness to testify was neighbor Jennifer Lutz, who had just finished feeding her 17-day-old baby when she heard the sound of glass breaking and saw Butz fall from a first-story window.
Butz's partner survived the attack and is expected to testify.
Despite a history of mental illness, Kalebu is not pursuing a mental-health defense; several experts determined him to be faking or exaggerating his symptoms. Instead, his lawyers say they will argue that he didn't commit the crime.
His pretrial antics have included swearing at the judge and lawyers involved in the case, knocking over chairs and gesturing obscenely at photographers.
The defense lawyers did not make an opening statement, saying they reserved the right to give one later.
Prosecutors will not seek the death penalty if Kalebu is convicted, due to his history of mental illness. Instead, he would face life in prison without release.
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