WAUKESHA, Wisconsin — As two 13-year-old Waukesha girls stood mute in court Friday, a judge entered not guilty pleas for them on charges of attempted homicide in the Slenderman stabbing case.
Waukesha County Circuit Judge Michael Bohren set a joint trial for Oct. 15.
The girls did not speak on their own behalf at their arraignments Friday because the judge has not yet issued his written order denying their effort to have their cases transferred to juvenile court and their attorneys continue to object to the adult jurisdiction.
Bohren ordered prosecutors, as the prevailing party on the reverse waiver issue, to draft an order for his signature “forthwith.”
Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier are charged as adults with attempted first-degree intentional homicide, as party to a crime, with use of a dangerous weapon for the near-fatal stabbing of a classmate in May 2014. The girls, then 12, later told investigators they were trying to appease or impress Slenderman, a fictional character on the Internet, and that they were trying to walk to his mansion in the Nicolet National Forest when they were arrested a few miles from the park where their victim was found bleeding by a passing bicyclist.
The offenses outlined in the 2014 criminal complaint get formally charged in a document called the information, filed after a judge finds probable cause at a preliminary hearing. Though Bohren made that finding last spring, the filing of the information was delayed until after hearings, in May and June, on the girls’ requests to have their cases “reverse waived” to juvenile court. Bohren denied those requests last week.
After Friday’s brief hearing, one of Geyser’s attorneys, Donna Kuchler, said the girl’s legal team wants to review a written order to decide whether to seek appellate review of Bohren’s denial. Kuchler said the defense may still enter a plea of not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect for Geyser, who has been diagnosed with early onset schizophrenia.
For the first time since taking on the high-profile case more than a year ago, Bohren expressed a little exasperation Friday. When Kuchler said she and co-counsel Anthony Cotton would not be available because of another trial Oct. 15, the judge made little effort to find another date.
When Maura McMahon, an attorney for Weier, asked if Bohren would set a deadline for prosecutors to submit the order denying a reverse waiver, Bohren responded, “Forthwith is forthwith.”
Friday’s hearing also marked the first time since the initial court appearance that news cameras were allowed to photograph the girls’ faces.
Citing the chance that they could wind up in juvenile court, Bohren had restricted photographers to showing the defendants from only the neck down. Once he decided the case should stay in adult court, news media asked if that rule would change, and on Thursday, Bohren removed that limitation, while maintaining a ban on showing any other minor witness or anyone in the gallery.
“The court previously emphasized the defendants’ youth in setting the photo restrictions,” Brendan Healey, a Chicago media lawyer who represents the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, said Thursday, prior to Bohren’s updated order on news media coverage.
Jim Moeser, deputy director of the nonprofit Wisconsin Council on Children and Families and a longtime juvenile justice professional, said in general juvenile advocates would prefer young defendants not be shown. Whenever children might return to the community, he said, it could ease their way if they weren’t easily recognizable as a defendant from a sensational case.
“They’re not going to look like this when they get out anyway,” he said of the girls. “But there’s no value in it. They’re kids.”
Kuchler sent Bohren a letter Wednesday briefly objecting to any decision to allow news media to photograph Geyser’s face. “She is a young child,” the letter states. She said Friday she is considering a more formal request to return to prior restrictions, or an appeal of Bohren’s decision to allow the girls’ faces to be shown.
The likelihood that one or both of the girls raising an insanity defense would suggest the case would not be ready for trial by October, consistent with slow pace of proceedings so far.
The preliminary hearing was delayed for months while the girls were examined for competency. Bohren found probable cause to advance the case in March but prosecutors delayed filing the information pending hearings and Bohren’s decision on the defense requests to transfer the cases to juvenile court.
In juvenile court, the girls would have faced a maximum of three years in juvenile prison plus intensive community supervision until age 18. As adults, they face up to 45 years in prison if convicted, though Bohren could sentence them to a far shorter term of incarceration followed by probation.
One or both of the girls could also be found not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect, which would land them in a state mental hospital for indefinite term of treatment.
Wisconsin law requires children as young as 10 be charged as adults for certain serious crimes, and then allows them to seek transfer to juvenile court, which happens very rarely.
Moeser said only about a half-dozen cases have been “reverse waived” statewide in recent years, usually when prosecutors agree to the move.
Moeser believes all juveniles should start out in the juvenile system, and judges be allowed to transfer cases to adult court when necessary. He says the Slenderman case “should raise awareness that [the current law] is backwards for kids this young.”
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