A county jail inmate who was arrested a week after squeezing through a narrow window and escaping had his bond set Wednesday at $500,000.
George Alan Cooper, 26, appeared in District Court by video from the Yellowstone County Detention Facility for arraignment on a felony escape charge. When asked by Judge Diane Barz how he pleaded to the charge, Cooper spent several minutes whispering with a public defender. Barz interrupted the private conversation when she told Cooper she was going to turn up the volume on the courtroom video equipment if he didn't enter a plea.
"I'm just debating whether I should plead guilty or not and I needed an attorney's advice on that," Cooper said.
Barz entered a plea of not guilty on Cooper's behalf and set the high bond after prosecutors said he has two previous escape convictions and numerous other felonies on his record.
Also appearing by video Wednesday for arraignment were two women accused of helping Cooper elude arrest after his escape. Cooper's girlfriend, Julene "Robin" Korte, and her mother, Julene Theriault, both pleaded not guilty to felony obstruction of justice. Korte was ordered held on $25,000 bond after prosecutors said she has made statements about fleeing the area. Barz set bond for Theriault at $10,000. Neither woman has a felony criminal record, prosecutors said.
Theriault's nephew, Kelly Kleinsasser, was also arrested on suspicion of helping Cooper after the escape, but he has since been released. Sheriff's Lt. Ron Wilson said Wednesday that Kleinsasser's role in the incident remains under investigation.
When he escaped April 28, Cooper was in the county jail on $250,000 bond awaiting trial on eight felony robbery charges. He is accused in a string of armed robberies at Billings and Helena casinos last year. Cooper was arrested Sunday after police got a tip that he was hiding at his girlfriend's house on South 30th Street.