Psychologists explain why Waukesha Slender Man stabbing suspect is better off in juvenile court

Michael Sears
Judge Michael Bohren won’t make a decision on whether to transfer Slender Man stabbing suspect Anissa Weier to the juvenile court system until Aug. 10.
Published on: 6/1/2015

One of the forensic psychologists who evaluated Anissa Weier says the 13-year-old is regretful and remorseful for her role in nearly stabbing a fellow classmate to death.

Antoinette Kavanaugh added that she doesn't believe transferring the case from the adult court system to the juvenile system would depreciate the seriousness of the attempted first-degree intentional homicide offense.

'She has mental health issues and they would best be addressed in juvenile court,' Kavanaugh said during the second of a two-day hearing last week, during which Weier's attorneys were trying to get the case moved into the juvenile system.

Two other medical experts echoed Kavanaugh's testimony that Weier would best be suited in the juvenile system.

The decision about whether that happens, however, will have to wait a little longer. Waukesha County Circuit Judge Michael Bohren said last week he won't rule on that possibility until Aug. 10.

Bohren said he wanted to wait to make a ruling on the transfer until after Weier's co-defendant, Morgan Geyser's hearing in June. Geyser's two-day hearing is scheduled to begin June 17.

Goal of defense

It has been the defense's goal from the time Weier and Geyser were charged last year to have the case moved to the juvenile court system. But this process had been on hold until many legal matters, including the girls' competency, was decided.

According to the Serious Juvenile Offender Program, the maximum number of years the suspects could be held is three years, with extended supervision only until they are 18 years old.

While in the juvenile program, they would be housed at Copper Lake School for girls in Irma, a community in northern Wisconsin. In the adult system, they would also be housed at that facility until they are 18 years old but also face up to 65 years in prison if the cases stay in adult court.

However, the defense team and psychologists who testified last week noted the services and attention clients receive at Copper Lake School is less if juveniles are tried as adults. Since the attack, Weier has been confined to the Washington County Juvenile Detention Center, where her attorneys said she been targeted by other children who have called her 'a murderer and a monster.'

Maura McMahon, one of Weier's attorneys, said treatment within the juvenile system provides hope Weier can rehabilitate from Day 1, as the system allows staff, her parents and a community agent to work with her.

Delusional disorder

Weier and Geyser told police they attempted to stab then-12-year-old Payton Leutner to death to become proxies of a fictitious Internet horror character named Slender Man. Medical experts testified Weier was suffering from a shared delusional disorder with Geyser.

Psychologist Michael Caldwell said Weier's belief in fantasy has dissipated after ending contact with Geyser. Caldwell said Weier then showed symptoms of depression after her delusional beliefs faded.

'It's very common and is a very Earth-shattering experience,' Caldwell said of what happens to people when they realize their beliefs aren't real.

Kavanaugh, however, said she believes 'seeds of delusion still exist' in Weier.

Kavanaugh said intensive treatment should not take any longer than two years and that Weier wants to heal. Medical experts also said Weier is a good candidate for therapy due to her verbal skills and because she doesn't have a history of drug, alcohol or a past criminal background.

Kavanaugh added that Weier needs therapy because she still doesn't 'fully understand how she got herself into this place.'

'She feels bad about what happened, but she needs help understanding how her mental illness played a part in it,' said Kavanaugh, who also stressed in testimony the differences of the brain between juveniles and adults and noted peer influence is greater in adolescents and are more likely to make riskier decisions.

Psychologist Anthony Jurek said 'therapy will be stressful' for Weier and that it will be a 'scary process for her,' because Weier would be afraid of where the therapist would take her.

Reluctant role

In a closing statement to the judge, McMahon said Geyser's influence over Weier, mental health factors and lack of brain development played a role in the crime.

'She fell under the influence of a more disturbed individual,' McMahon said.

Leutner told police Geyser, who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, stabbed her 19 times while Weier stood beside them.

'Three times (Weier) was given the knife by Morgan Geyser. Three times she gave it back,' McMahon said.

Caldwell said Weier has 'a low risk for any kind of future violence.'

The experts also all testified Weier's struggle to deal with her parents' divorce and ability to fit in entering middle school.

'Socially she was isolated and desperate for a friendship and closeness to somebody,' Jurek said. 'I think the offense in this case kind of grew out of that. It was a distorted sort of friendship that basically went in a bad direction, and I don't think Anissa has the kind of personality that she could assert herself and pull away from that.'

Challenging complaint

Before Bohren will make a decision on whether to move the case to the juvenile system, he will make a ruling on a motion made by Weier's attorneys to dismiss the criminal complaint.

Joseph Smith Jr. and McMahon filed a motion in court on May 21 saying Weier's presumptive placement in the adult criminal system is unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment and her exclusion from juvenile court jurisdiction violates the Equal Protection and due process clauses of the U.S. and Wisconsin constitutions.

They wrote 'such excessive punishment for juveniles is cruel and unusual and in violation of the Eighth Amendment.'

Bohren will make a ruling on that motion on June 10.