Legal questions surround Waukesha stabbing suspects

Christopher Kuhagen
Anthony Cotton, attorney for Morgan E. Geyser, one of the suspects in the Waukesha stabbing case, was swarmed by members of the local and national media after a status review for his 12-year-old client on June 10.
Published on: 6/16/2014

Heads lowered, hands cuffed together, Morgan E. Geyser and Anissa E. Weier returned to court last week for the second time since being charged with attempted first-degree intentional homicide.

The appearances of the 12-year-old suspects, dressed in blue jail-issued jumpsuits, in the Waukesha County intake court were brief.

Both attorneys made requests on behalf of their clients, who allegedly plotted for months to kill their fellow classmate, allegedly stabbing her 19 times and leaving her to die May 31 to prove themselves worthy of an Internet character.

Geyser's competency

Geyser's attorney, Anthony Cotton, asked that his young client's competency for trial be evaluated by a doctor. The state, represented by Deputy District Attorney Susan Opper, did not oppose that evaluation.

The Wisconsin Forensic Unit will conduct the evaluation, and, according to a court order, the results will be sealed and confidential. Geyser's evaluation has to occur within 15 days from the most recent status review, on June 11.

"The law requires us to raise that issue when we have reason to doubt that our client is competent," said Cotton, as he was swarmed by members of the local and national media. "Based on what I've seen, I have reason to doubt her competency."

Cotton said he couldn't talk about the specifics of what he has noticed, but stressed that his team "has an obligation to raise competency when we have reason to doubt it."

He added "there's ethical rules and I don't want to try this case in the press."

Cotton expects to have the competency report by the next hearing, scheduled for 8:30 a.m. July 2. Weier will also return to court then.

Weier's legal concerns

Unlike Cotton, Weier's attorney, Joseph Smith Jr., did not raise the issue of competency at the last status review. But Smith did ask for discovery materials prior to the preliminary hearing. The state will oppose that motion in a written response.

"We're normally not entitled to discovery prior to preliminary hearing, but due to the nature of the offense that she's charged within her age there's some additional issues we can bring up at the preliminary hearing that normally we can't," Smith said. "We can't adequately represent our client unless we have access to the information."

Smith said the information would need to be in his hands prior to a reverse waiver hearing, in which the attorneys can ask for the case to be moved to juvenile court.

The two suspects, sixth-graders at Horning Middle School, are charged as adults and could face up to 65 years in prison. The penalty is less severe in juvenile court — Waukesha County District Attorney Brad Schimel noted that the maximum he can hold the suspects if the case gets moved is five years.

"I've never seen a combination of allegations like this involving people who are so young," Schimel said recently. "This is uncharted water."

Juvenile vs. adult

Schimel said starting in adult court was warranted given the magnitude of the allegations and that according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Wisconsin is one of 29 states that requires homicide or attempted homicide charges to be filed in adult court if the suspect is at least 10 years old.

"I would never argue a 12-year-old is like an adult, but the question is whether the juvenile system would have adequate services to address what has happened and if it's in the best interest of the child and community," Schimel said. "If the allegations in the complaint are true, then that (warrants) the charges."

Both Cotton and Smith discussed moving the case to the juvenile court system.

"My belief is that my client's issues cannot be adequately addressed in the adult criminal system," Smith said. "So I'm going to be advocating strongly that she be transferred to the juvenile justice system, which is designed to address the needs and treatment of children her age and level of maturity."

Cotton said making a request to have the case moved to juvenile court is "something that we're thinking about every day."

"It's a horribly complex process," he added. "There's a lot that goes into it. Evaluations have to occur. Discussions (are necessary). But I think really anybody can see (that) when you represent an 11-year-old who just turned 12 the adult court system may not be the best place for them."

Thoughts for the victim

Both suspects have showed little emotion in court, but both attorneys shared the remorse that their clients and their families have expressed.

"I join my client, my client's family, in wishing the victim a swift recovery," Smith said.

Meanwhile, Cotton said of Geyser's family, who have been seen twice leaving the courtroom in tears, "they just feel so terribly sad for the victim and her family. It's a tragedy, and my client's parents — every day we've talked — have expressed remorse and sadness and anguish over that.

"It's very tough for everybody. I think everybody's a victim here. And it's very difficult for them to think through this. It's tough on the children. It's tough on the parents."

Geyser and Weier are each being held at the Washington County Detention Facility in West Bend on $500,000 bail.