More questions than answers emerge after preteen stabbing
What were the two 12-year-old suspects thinking?
A 12-year-old Waukesha girl charged with trying to fatally stab a friend needs a mental health evaluation as soon as possible, her attorney said Tuesday.
Anthony Cotton spoke with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel shortly after visiting his client, Morgan Geyser, for about an hour Tuesday afternoon.
"I'm basing that on my years of experience interacting with thousands of clients," he said. "I believe she has those needs."
Cotton said he wasn't sure how soon he could find a doctor and get approval for a visit with Geyser at the secure juvenile facility in West Bend, where she's being held.
Geyser and Anissa Weier, 12, were charged Monday in Waukesha County Circuit Court as adults with attempted first-degree intentional homicide. Prosecutors say the girls plotted for weeks to kill their 12-year-old friend during a sleepover for Geyser's birthday last month.
According to statements police say the girls made, they were motivated by a belief in Slender Man, a mysterious fictional character from Internet horror story sites.
The victim — whose name has not been released — was discovered on the edge of some woods near David's Park in Waukesha by a passing bicyclist. Police said she had been stabbed 19 times. She remains hospitalized at Waukesha Memorial Hospital.
Forensic psychologists who specialize in juvenile crimes say as the investigation continues, additional information will likely surface that could help further explain the motivations behind the stabbing. And that information could likely extend far beyond the girls' obsession with Slender Man, as described in the criminal complaint.
Robert Kinscherff, senior associate at the National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice, said that in the few similar cases that exist historically worldwide, the suspects' relationship with each other was a key component.
"When you think back to being 12 or 13, relationships are intense," Kinscherff said.
And it's that intensity, developed in isolation — and without oversight or moderation — that in rare cases may lead to extreme behaviors. The children feed off each other's thoughts and reaffirm each other's increasingly unrealistic appraisal of the world.
"There are lots and lots of teenagers who play video games and who played Dungeons & Dragons, who absolutely understood this was a fantasy world, this wasn't real. But there were very rare cases where kids developed an isolated way of functioning and began to operate as though it were real," said Kinscherff, who is also associate vice president for community relations at the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology in Boston.
In exceedingly rare cases, groups of closely knit friends attacked one another.
The more common extreme behavior with similar dynamics is group suicide, he said.
"You have the intensity of relationship in isolation, a suicide pact with maybe two, three or four, and they come up with all kinds of reasons why they need to commit suicide as a group," he said. "They may not be quite as fantastic as Slender Man, but they come up with all kinds of reasons . . . It's about loyalty and constructing a world where this makes sense."
Kinscherff said not enough is known yet about the Waukesha girls to determine if there were emerging signs of mental illness and that forensic evaluations would provide further insight.
Juveniles more vulnerable
Nancy Kaser-Boyd, a forensic psychologist at Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, noted a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2005 deeming the execution of adolescents who committed crimes as juveniles to be unconstitutional.
The court pointed to studies showing teens are statistically over-represented in every category of reckless behavior. It cited evidence such as the fact that nearly every state forbids people under 18 from voting, getting married without parents' consent and from serving on juries. And the studies showed juveniles are more vulnerable to negative influences and outside pressures, less able to resist coercive influence and that their character is still undergoing change.
"It's a seminal ruling," Kaser-Boyd said.
Depending on what a doctor finds in a mental health evaluation of Geyser, her attorney said he might seek further evaluations or raise the issue of Geyser's competency to understand the charges and aid in her own defense, which is not the same as raising an insanity defense.
Cotton said he plans to ask Waukesha County Circuit Judge Michael Bohren to move the case to children's court. District Attorney Brad Schimel has said he would oppose that move.
Cotton said it was too soon to know whether there would be any other pretrial motions, such as challenges about the girls' statements to police. "We don't yet know the circumstances," he said, other than that neither girl had a lawyer present.
The next court appearance is scheduled for June 11. The attorney for Weier could not be reached.
Cotton said Geyser's parents continue to express remorse for the victim and her family. He said they've been bombarded by news media from around the country and that he's advised them not to talk with any reporters.