Slen­der Man

Weier will spend at least three years in se­cure men­tal health fa­cil­ity

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - BRUCE VIELMETTI

A jury’s de­ci­sion that one of the girls charged in the Slen­der Man stab­bing was not guilty by rea­son of men­tal dis­ease may ex­pe­dite res­o­lu­tion of the other girl’s case.

A jury’s de­ci­sion late Fri­day that one of the girls charged in the in­fa­mous Slen­der Man stab­bing was not guilty by rea­son of men­tal dis­ease may ex­pe­dite res­o­lu­tion of the other girl’s case, but it likely won’t end the in­trigue sur­round­ing the bizarre case.

Anissa Weier es­sen­tially won her trial when a jury found her not guilty by rea­son of men­tal dis­ease or de­fect. It means she won’t go to prison. In­stead, she will be com­mit­ted to the Depart­ment of Health Ser­vices, likely at Win­nebago Men­tal Health In­sti­tute in Oshkosh, for at least three years.

The judge set an Oct. 2 dead­line for a re­port ad­dress­ing the the pa­ram­e­ters of the com­mit­ment. Af­ter that, he will hold a hear­ing.

As Weier’s lawyer Maura McMa­hon told jurors, it’s hardly a loop­hole. McMa­hon asked them if they would want their rel­a­tives to live at that kind of se­cure fa­cil­ity.

But had the jury not been per­suaded that Weier suf­fered a men­tal dis­or­der at the time of the crime, or didn’t be­lieve the dis­or­der pre­vented her act­ing law­fully, Weier would be head­ing to prison — for a crime she com­mit­ted when she was 12.

Weier, now 15, has lived in a win­dow­less ju­ve­nile jail in West Bend since she was ar­rested the day af­ter the 2014 at­tack.

Tabloid head­lines

The shock­ing na­ture of the crime drew in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion. Weier and Mor­gan Geyser plot­ted to kill their six­th­grade friend and class­mate to ap­pease Slen­der Man, a fic­tional in­ter­net boogey­man. They stabbed the vic­tim 19 times and left her to die in some woods.

The vic­tim sur­vived and her at­tack­ers were ar­rested within hours. They had started off on a days­long walk to a north­ern for­est, where they be­lieved they would live in Slen­der Man’s man­sion as his prox­ies. They brought a few snack bars and photos of their fam­i­lies, ex­pect­ing never to see them again.

The de­fen­dants met per­haps their harsh­est pun­ish­ment the next day when they were charged as adults, their names and faces in­stantly and for­ever be­com­ing part of the same in­ter­net meme that had lured their young imag­i­na­tions into a near­fa­tal delu­sion.

A short time later, both girls’ video-recorded in­ter­ro­ga­tions were made pub­lic, so the world could hear them ex­plain how Slen­der Man — and the girls’ own co-depen­dency — landed them in cus­tody when they should have been play­ing soccer or do­ing home­work.

Lawyers for both girls im­me­di­ately be­gan try­ing to have their cases trans­ferred to ju­ve­nile court, where the lawyers hoped they would be quickly re­solved so the girls would be­gin get­ting treat­ment.

But pub­lic out­rage and sym­pa­thy for the vic­tim and her fam­ily could not be ig­nored. Pay­ton Leut­ner had to have surg­eries; one stab wound was just a cen­time­ter from killing her. She re­ceived cards and let­ters and pur­ple-themed hearts from peo­ple around the world. Gov. Scott Walker de­clared a day for her and lo­cal groups held fundrais­ers. ABC’s “20/20” did a show about her sur­vival, the only time her par­ents have spo­ken to any me­dia about the im­pact of the crime.

At the same time, the de­fen­dants’ par­ents were get­ting threats, hate mail and phone calls and be­ing blamed on so­cial me­dia for their daugh­ters’ crime. Their sto­ries were later part of an HBO doc­u­men­tary that ex­plored the im­pact of the in­ter­net on ado­les­cent de­vel­op­ment.

Af­ter an ex­ten­sive hear­ing that fea­tured sim­i­lar ev­i­dence to Weier’s trial, Cir­cuit Judge Michael Bohren de­clined to move the case from adult court. He said it would “un­duly de­pre­ci­ate the na­ture of the crime” and that he was con­cerned about the girls af­ter they turned 18.

As ju­ve­niles, they could have been in­car­cer­ated for two years and kept un­der strict com­mu­nity su­per­vi­sion un­til age 18. Con­victed as adults, they could be sen­tenced to up to 45 years in prison, plus 20 more years of su­per­vi­sion.

Weier’s at­tor­ney, McMa­hon, said los­ing the trans­fer to ju­ve­nile court was the tough­est mo­ment in her ca­reer.

“To see this child left in a sys­tem that didn’t have a lot of op­tions for her was ter­ri­fy­ing to me,” she said.

Then both girls en­tered pleas of not guilty by rea­son of men­tal dis­ease and pre­pared for tri­als.

Three ex­perts agree

Last month, Weier sud­denly pleaded guilty to at­tempted sec­ond-de­gree in­ten­tional homi­cide, re­duced from first de­gree, and opted for trial only on the penalty phase. Three psy­chol­o­gists, two of whom are also lawyers, of­fered un­re­but­ted tes­ti­mony that Weier suf­fered from schizo­typy, a con­di­tion on the schizophre­nia spec­trum. That made her chance meet­ing and sub­se­quent friend­ship with Geyser a per­fect storm for shared delu­sion.

Pros­e­cu­tors pre­sented no ev­i­dence, but ar­gued that doc­tors’ con­clu­sions were based on Weier’s claim she felt com­pelled to go through with the plan to mur­der Leut­ner be­cause if she did not, Slen­der Man would kill her or her fam­ily.

They seized on Weier’s state­ment to a de­tec­tive: “The silly thing is, I didn’t even know we were in dan­ger un­til Mor­gan had stabbed Pay­ton.”

That state­ment proved, the pros­e­cu­tion said, that be­fore the stab­bing, Weier did not have a true fear of im­me­di­ate dan­ger. Her real mo­ti­va­tion, they said, was to pre­serve her friend­ship with Geyser.

But jurors re­quested to watch the full three-hour in­ter­ro­ga­tion. In to­tal­ity, it re­vealed a clearly dis­turbed and con­fused child who be­lieved in Slen­der Man and his pow­ers in large part be­cause of con­vinc­ing phony po­lice reports, ar­ti­cles and other doc­u­ments about him on the in­ter­net. The jury asked if they could stop watch­ing the video af­ter about the first 30 min­utes. It left one of them “dis­traught and up­set,” a jury note said.

“If adults have trou­ble know­ing what’s fake news, imag­ine how hard it is for a 12-year-old,” McMa­hon told jurors.

Weier’s fa­ther and sev­eral for­mer teach­ers also tes­ti­fied at her trial. They said that while she wasn’t the most so­cial kid in school, she did have some friends, was a good stu­dent and seemed to deal with her par­ents’ divorce fairly well. None said they ever sus­pected men­tal ill­ness or the po­ten­tial for homi­ci­dal vi­o­lence.

Geyser case pend­ing

Geyser’s trial is now set for next month. Early in the case, she was di­ag­nosed with early-on­set schizophre­nia, a men­tal ill­ness that runs in her fam­ily.

Ex­perts said dur­ing her in­ter­ro­ga­tion and at early court hear­ings, Geyser con­versed with fic­tional char­ac­ters and con­ceded Slen­der Man might or­der her to kill again. She also said she be­lieved she could sup­press neg­a­tive emo­tions through Vul­can mind con­trol. At the West Bend jail, she ate un­der a table, fed ants and watched The Weather Chan­nel for hours.

Geyser lived there, un­treated, for months, un­til she was fi­nally com­mit­ted to a state hos­pi­tal in a sep­a­rate civil pro­ceed­ing late in 2015. Since then, she has been on med­i­ca­tion and get­ting ther­apy and is no longer ex­press­ing those be­liefs and be­hav­iors, ac­cord­ing to her at­tor­ney, An­thony Cotton.

He and pros­e­cu­tors have also dis­cussed plea deals. Those likely will in­ten­sify in light of the jury’s de­ci­sion to find Weier not guilty by rea­son of in­san­ity,

It is highly likely jurors would reach the same con­clu­sion re­gard­ing Geyser, and Cotton has ex­pressed a pref­er­ence to avoid both costly phases of a trial. (The jury in Weier’s trial was se­questered, as would be the one for Geyer’s trial).

“Jus­tice is done,” Cotton said of Fri­day’s ver­dict. “Both chil­dren should con­tinue to re­ceive men­tal health care so that they can be pro­duc­tive mem­bers of so­ci­ety.

“These cases un­der­score the im­por­tance of a jury sys­tem. We are op­ti­mistic that the pros­e­cu­tors will care­fully ex­am­ine the case and do the right thing.”

The pros­e­cu­tors on the case de­clined to com­ment af­ter Fri­day’s ver­dict.

MICHAEL SEARS / MIL­WAU­KEE JOUR­NAL SEN­TINEL

Mor­gan Geyser (left) and Anissa Weier plot­ted to kill their sixth-grade friend and class­mate to ap­pease Slen­der Man, a char­ac­ter from in­ter­net fic­tion.

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