Weier will spend at least three years in secure mental health facility
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.
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.
Morgan Geyser (left) and Anissa Weier plotted to kill their sixth-grade friend and classmate to appease Slender Man, a character from internet fiction.