By Bruce Vielmetti | Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel
Waukesha — Two middle school girls charged with trying to kill a classmate to gain favor with Slender Man, a fictional Internet character, were ruled competent Thursday to face their prosecution.
The rulings came amid the revelation that one of the defendants suffers from schizophrenia.
Waukesha County Circuit Judge Michael Bohren found Anissa Weier, 13, competent after a three-hour hearing Thursday morning at which mental health experts offered differing conclusions on that issue.
Morgan Geyser, 12, had been set for a similar hearing in the afternoon to challenge a state psychiatrist’s finding that, through treatment, she had regained competency after being ruled in August to be unable to fully understand the charges or aid in her own defense.
But at the start of the hearing, attorney Anthony Cotton announced that her defense team was dropping its objection to the finding by state psychiatrist Kenneth Casimir, and would agree that she is now competent to proceed.
Cotton revealed in court that Casimir has diagnosed Geyser with schizophrenia, a mental illness. Cotton then asked if Bohren would order that Geyser continue to be held at the Winnebago Mental Health Institute, where she has been for months and where she can continue to be monitored by doctors while attending school and seeing a social worker.
Cotton said there would be a good chance Geyser might regress to incompetency if returned to the juvenile detention facility in West Bend where she had been kept until August, and where Weier remains.
Bohren granted the request, for now.
The long awaited preliminary hearings in the case, which was charged in June, are now set for February, likely the week of the 16th.
At those hearings prosecutors must show simple probable cause that the girls committed the specific offense of attempted first degree intentional homicide.
Then the case can move to what the defense attorneys have said will be critical — their attempts to have the case “reverse waived” to juvenile court. That would be considered at a future hearing.
As adults, they could face up to 60 years in prison. As juveniles, they could be held in a secure facility until they’re 25.
Bohren made his ruling on Weier after hearing from three mental health professionals who have examined Weier. Two psychologists retained by the defense believed she is not competent, based on an emotional immaturity and the lack of strategic decision making ability. One was a psychiatrist appointed by the court who said he believed Weier, whom he found extremely intelligent, was competent.
All three said they found Weier to be bright, articulate and cooperative. They agreed she seemed to understand the serious charges she faces, at least at the very broadest level.
But the psychologists felt that in terms of applying her knowledge to decisions about things like whether to plea bargain, she lacked competence,based on her age and immaturity, not any mental illness.
While she could be tutored on better understanding of legal procedure, only time will allow the brain development that would increase her rational decision making capacity, they said.
Robert Rawski, the forensic psychiatrist, thought Weier showed she could rationally participate in court proceedings and adequately aid in her defense.
Weier’s attorneys argued that the psychologists had more experience working with juveniles, and spent more time with Weier before reaching their conclusions, which came down to nuanced understandings of adolescent brain development.
One of the psychologists, Michael Caldwell, was concerned that Weier didn’t have a meaningful understanding of time frames, including the fact she could go to prison far longer than she has been alive.
Caldwell also said Weier had a tendency, despite high intelligence, to ignore things most people would agree are important to consider in a decision and instead base choices on irrelevant factors. .
The Slender Man stabbing
Geyser and Weier are charged as adults in the May stabbing of Payton Leutner in a Waukesha park after a sleepover to celebrate Geyer’s birthday.
The pair told investigators they were trying to gain the favor of Slender Man, a fictional online character.Leutner survived her wounds and has since returned to school.
Attorneys for each girl have said they will try to have their cases moved to juvenile court.
Geyser already has been found incompetent once, meaning the judge was not convinced she fully understood the charges or was able to aid in her defense. But after weeks of mental treatment, a doctor last month said Geyser had been restored to competency.
At Geyser’s first competency hearing in August, mental health experts testified that during their interviews she exhibited disturbing behavior and beliefs: squatting on her chair, laughing hysterically for no reason, constantly looking in corners.
She said she had conversations with the fictional Lord Voldemort character from the Harry Potter stories and a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. She repeated her belief in Slender Man, unicorns and her own power of “Vulcan mind control.”
The experts said Geyser, in addition to being immature, may suffer from an undiagnosed psychiatric illness.