A Wichita mother and her boyfriend accused of abusing and killing a 3-year-old girl last year pleaded guilty this month to charges that will likely put each in prison for less than 14 years.
Evan Schuessler and Monica Krueger originally were charged with first-degree felony murder – an offense punishable by a life prison sentence – and other crimes in the June 4, 2014, death of Krueger’s daughter, Emma Krueger. But each pleaded guilty to reduced charges in the days leading up to their scheduled jury trials.
Before her death, police responded to reports that a child was being abused at the south Wichita apartment where Emma lived, but said they were given the wrong address and could not find the child. Emma died three weeks after police were called.
Schuessler, 24, admitted to one count of second-degree intentional murder and one count of child abuse on Oct. 7, six days before he was set to face a Sedgwick County jury.
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Monica Krueger, 25, entered a guilty plea Thursday to one count of second-degree reckless murder and one count of obstructing prosecution. Her trial was on Monday’s docket.
Although the possible prison sentence for intentional second-degree murder ranges from just over 12 years to just over 54 years, Schuessler will likely get a term of 13 years and nine months if a judge follows the sentencing recommendations laid out in his plea agreement.
He is scheduled for sentencing Nov. 17.
Under Kansas sentencing guidelines, Krueger’s murder conviction carries a possible prison sentence of between just over nine years and just over 41 years in prison. She is likely receive no more than 10 years and three months in prison when she is sentenced Dec. 3
Both are expected to receive penalties on the lower end of the range because they have little to no criminal past.
Defense attorney Christine Jones said Friday that the terms of Krueger’s plea agreement also leave open an option to argue for probation. She said her client’s plea “definitely resulted in a significant decrease in the possible sentence that she could be looking at.”
“It’s something that we’ve talked about, and she and her family have talked about for a long time about how to proceed,” Jones said, adding that the decision “was certainly something that was not taken lightly.”
Dan Dillon, spokesman for the Sedgwick County District Attorney’s Office, said Schuessler won’t be able to ask for a shorter sentence or probation under the terms of his plea agreement.
His defense attorney did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment Friday.
Emma, according to her autopsy report, died of head trauma. Police have said she suffered beatings at the hands of her caretakers for maybe a month before she ended up at Wesley Medical Center on June 2, 2014, unresponsive and with swelling on her brain and bruises covering her body.
Doctors pronounced her brain dead two days later. She died after her life support was removed.
Emma’s death came three weeks after a resident of Falcon Pointe Apartments, 4244 S. Hydraulic, called 911, asking police to check on her. Emma lived at the complex with her mother, siblings and Schuessler.
Police have said that the resident provided authorities with the girl’s name, approximate age, her mother’s first name, and the boyfriend’s full name, but officers were given the wrong apartment number. They made it to the right building on May 10, 2014, but didn’t find Emma despite a 20-minute search.
Krueger and Schuessler were arrested after Emma was hospitalized on June 2.
Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett on Friday said the penalties the pair are expected to receive for their murder convictions are a reflection of their prior criminal histories, sentencing guidelines set by state legislators and a look at what facts were provable in their criminal cases.
Intent also plays a role.
“What unfortunately happens in most of these child abuse situations is there is some type of abuse taking place, and the defense is that the child accidentally died,” Bennett said.
There also are questions about the number of adults who were around a child when the abuse happened and exactly who is responsible, he said.
About the sentences that will be recommended for Schuessler and Krueger, Bennett said: “This certainly is no reflection of us thinking that 13 years’ (imprisonment) sounds adequate” for the death of a child.