Just about everyone has done something terrible or cringeworthy at the age of 12. But not many have attempted to kill a fellow 12-year-old for the sake of a fictional horror character. Wisconsin teens Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier have. Back in May 2014, the two girls were arrested for luring their friend, Payton Leutner, into a Waukesha park and stabbing her multiple times, leaving her to die afterwards. Geyser and Weier told investigators that they hoped killing their friend would please Slenderman, a demon-like character they had read about in online horror stories. Slenderman is described as an unnaturally thin, faceless creature who preys on children — horrifying in theory, but entirely fictional.
Luckily, Leutner was able to crawl to a nearby road despite her bleeding wounds, where a passing bicyclist found her. Doctors counted 19 stab wounds, including one that narrowly missed a major artery by her heart. Leutner made a fast recovery, despite the severity of her injuries, and was able to return to school that September.
Police found Geyser and Weier on the outskirts of Waukesha later that day. The duo had planned to walk nearly 300 miles to Nicolet National Park, where they could live in Slenderman’s mansion, as they explained. They were promptly arrested, and have since pled not guilty to their crime, with mental illness playing a big role in their defense.
On July 27th, a Wisconsin state appeals court ruled that Geyser and Weier should be tried as adults, despite being way under 18 years old. Investigators found sufficient evidence to prove that the girls, now 14 years old, had plotted this attack for months. They have been charged with attempted first-degree intentional homicide; if convicted, they could go to prison for up to 65 years. As juveniles, Geyser and Weier could be incarcerated for up to three years, then supervised until age 18. After that, they would be free without supervision or mental health treatment.
Under Wisconsin law, anyone 10 years or older charged with first-degree attempted homicide is automatically considered an adult. In a pair of rulings, the 2nd District Appeals court affirmed that it was reasonable to try both girls as adults. The appeals court said if the girls were found guilty in the juvenile system, they would be released at age 18 with no supervision or mental health treatment. The court also indicated that the evidence proved the crime was not accidental or impulsive but planned out. It would undermine the seriousness of the offense to try Geyser and Weier as juveniles.
But defense attorneys have argued that the case belongs in juvenile court, explaining how both girls suffer from mental illness. They run the risk of not getting the treatment they need in the adult prison system. Experts testified that Geyser, who wielded the knife, has early onset schizophrenia and an oppositional defiant disorder that requires long-term mental health treatment. She still believes in Slenderman to this day. Weier has also been diagnosed with a delusional disorder and a condition known as schizotypy, which essentially means it’s far more difficult for her to determine what is reality and what is not. A psychologist testified that this made her vulnerable to believing in Slenderman as well.
The girls could appeal the rulings to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, but the appeal is very specific in what it requires. Maura McMahon, one of the defense attorneys, said she was “disappointed and sad” with the ruling and was reviewing it to decide whether to seek further appeal. However, Geyser and Weier deserve to be tried as adults rather than juveniles, despite their age and testified mental illnesses. Juvenile court would not be sufficient in serving justice for their actions.
While I fully agree that the adult prison system fails to meet the needs of mentally ill incarcerates, it seems that that is a much bigger problem than just this case alone. This systematic issue needs to be resolved on a higher level by providing more resources for inmates who are testified to needing mental health services. In the meantime, regarding the specific case of Geyser and Weier, their actions were far too deliberate and violent to be given such a simple punishment.
The main reason for this stance is how much the girls planned out their crime. Not only was it arranged, but evidence shows they had been preparing for months in advance. Some attribute the crime to the girls’ ages and immaturity, saying that this played a huge role in their perception of the crime alongside the schizophrenia. But should we really believe that a pre-teen doesn’t understand the severity of stabbing someone? It’s normal to have a fascination with death, especially as an adolescent, but to have functioned in society for 12 years and not known the consequences of one of the worst crimes one can commit doesn’t seem likely. And if the girls truly didn’t perceive it as wrong, then they need far more rehabilitation than just schizophrenia treatment. Not to mention there has been no public remorse from either of the assailants for their actions against their friend.
I also say “functioned in society” with a grain of salt – clearly, the girls suffered from mental instability before it was diagnosed. But will juvenile court truly help them with rehabilitation in such a short amount of time? If found guilty as juveniles or deemed “delinquents,” they walk away after a measly three years. That’s only five years since Payton Leutner had to crawl for her life with 19 stab wounds. The unsupervised years to follow that easily open up opportunities for Geyser or Weier to succumb to their mental illnesses despite treatment.
On the other hand, many people also disagree with the ruling. One writer for Rolling Stone especially argues against it since “Most juvenile offenders don’t need to be incapacitated because they grow out of their offending behaviors rather than becoming ongoing threats to public safety.” She also believes that the immaturity of the girls combined with their mental illness, trying them as adults would ultimately cause more harm than good as it would keep them from receiving the rehabilitation and treatment they need. While this argument makes many valid points in an extremely tough case, I believe this writer undermines the deliberateness of the attack performed by the girls, who are old enough to know better.
As 18-year old adults, Geyser and Weier could be fully rehabilitated or they could not be. But they will be able to walk along in society after being released from juvenile prison, whether they are mentally stable or not. Although giving them a chance in society seems fair, they committed a serious and horrific crime against a fellow peer. Will the court risk that happening again? Rather than allowing Geyser and Weier a lenient punishment based on the possibility of being treated, we should try them as adults for deliberately almost taking an innocent girl’s life for the sake of Slenderman.