Ryan Henson doesn't really remember vaulting two 5-foot retaining walls as he chased after a despondent 18-year-old at the courthouse. But he vividly remembers seeing the teenager out on the roof's ledge, ready to jump.
"I am much bigger than him. He is about 125 pounds. I just knew if I could catch up, I could stop him," Henson said. "The big scare was after the fact ... I could have gone over with him."
Henson has been practicing mostly criminal law in Idaho since 2002. He thought he'd seen pretty much everything that could happen at a courthouse.
"It's certainly something I never contemplated before. The whole thing happened pretty quickly," he said.
No one at the Ada County Courthouse, which opened on Front Street in 2002, can remember anything similar.
The public has access up to the fifth floor, where felony cases are heard. That's also where an outdoor smoking lounge is, which is how the teen got to the roof.
Henson's client got into trouble stealing from a trailer in Valley County - "the kind of stupid stuff kids do sometimes," the attorney said.
Henson said the teen was due in front of 4th District Judge Ronald Wilper on March 26. He'd just found out he was going to have to plead guilty to a grand theft charge, and even though both sides were recommending probation, he was worried.
Henson also said his client has autism spectrum disorder - what used to commonly be called Asperger's syndrome - and that contributed to his anxiety.
"The stress of a possibly life-changing event just became overwhelming for him," Henson said.
'I NEVER LOOKED OVER'
Henson and the client were in one of the meeting rooms near Courtroom 508. Henson said he was explaining the plea agreement to the client's mother when the teen abruptly ran into the hallway. Henson followed.
The teen ran to the balcony, took a hard left, jumped over the retaining walls and ran to the front of the courthouse, Henson said.
"He hesitated once he got up on the ledge, and I think that is what allowed me to catch up," he said.
Henson said he put a foot on the ledge and kept the other on the roof as he grabbed the teen and lifted him to safety. As he moved his client away from the edge, courtroom marshals arrived, handcuffing the teen to take him inside.
"I never looked over the edge," Henson said. "I didn't want to know how high up we were."
If he had looked, Henson would have seen a 30-foot drop to the gravel rooftop of the third floor.
In court later that day, the teen's mother told Wilper that her son had hoped to commit suicide. Henson told the judge that a mental health evaluation wasn't needed: The teen knew exactly what he did and why.
Wilper set a high bond and the teen was taken to the Ada County Jail. This week, he entered the guilty plea in front of Wilper without incident.
"He was a completely different man," Henson said. "He apologized. I pointed out to him that I have a family and kids, and that he put more than one person in danger when he did that."
JUST HELPING HIS CLIENT
In the halls of the courthouse Thursday, several lawyers heard Henson's story for the first time. They teased him a little, asking whether the teen still owed him fees when he chased after him.
Several judges and marshals who said they didn't want to be named offered words of admiration, saying they weren't sure how many defense attorneys would go so far to protect a client.
Henson shrugged off the teasing and said he appreciates any compliments. He said he simply didn't think about it that much at the time - his instinct was just to help a client, and a young man, from doing something harmful in a time of great stress.
Ada County spokeswoman Jessica Donald said she's not sure whether county officials are now considering additional security measures for the smoking area leading to the roof.
Patrick Orr: 377-6219