Just last week, Judge Michael Bohren of Waukesha County, Wisconsin, decided that the two thirteen-year-old girls responsible for the brutal “Slender Man” stabbing of another classmate will stay in adult court instead of being transferred to the juvenile system.
This decision was significant for two main reasons. First, it meant that their lawyers’ arguments and doctors’ opinions failed to convince the court that the girls needed to be kept in a juvenile facility for better access to mental health treatment. Second, it meant that the potential punishment would be up to approximately sixty years in prison whereas if the case had been transferred, the girls would have been released upon turning twenty-five with no requirement for supervision.
To prove their dedication to the fictional character, Slender Man, they believed that they had to kill someone.
The case stems from a brutal stabbing that occurred on May 31, 2014, in Waukesha, Wisconsin. The girls told law enforcement that they planned to kill a friend during a birthday sleepover to prove they were loyal to the fictional character, Slender Man. Based on an interrogation of one of the girls, authorities concluded that the plan was formulated as early as December of 2013. Slender Man is a fictional character that was created in 2009 in an online forum for people who enjoy generating fake supernatural pictures. He appears to be a scary and faceless cartoon figure in a dark suit. His story says that he is known to haunt children and those who seek to expose him.
An investigator working for the defense said in one of the girl’s bedrooms he found “numerous notebooks and pieces of paper with drawings and writings pertaining to the Slender Man character and involving death.” The girls found the fictional character on a website dedicated to internet horror stories. They both believed that he was real. The girls decided to become what they called “proxies” of Slender Man. To prove their dedication to the fictional character, the girls believed that they had to kill someone.
On May 31, 2014, after walking with their friend in the woods, who was also twelve years old, the girls stabbed the innocent friend nineteen times during a game of hide-and-seek and left her to die. The girls told her to be quiet and lay down because they would go get help. However, they fled instead. The victim crawled to the nearest road where a person bicycling in the area found her. She was then transported to the hospital. Despite the brutal attack, the victim survived. Hours later, the two girls were found walking toward a national forest where they said they believed Slender Man lived in a mansion. They told police that they were going to live with him. Both girls were subsequently charged with first-degree intentional attempted homicide.
The defense lawyers had argued that the law should be found unconstitutional because when applied to their clients, the law was cruel and unusual punishment.
There was an issue with whether the girls were mentally competent to stand trial for the crime. Two psychologists who testified for the defense said that one of the girls was incompetent because she would be unable to make decisions in a complicated criminal trial. However, in December 2014, a judge ruled that both girls were competent to stand trial despite the arguments of their lawyers to the contrary.
In addition to pointing out the poor quality of mental health treatment in adult prisons compared to juvenile facilities, lawyers for the thirteen year old girls argued that transferring the case to the juvenile system would not decrease the seriousness of the crime. Additionally, the attorneys argued that the goal of deterrence was not achieved through keeping the case in adult court.
Alternatively, prosecutors stated that their filings presented substantial evidence to support a finding of probable cause for first-degree intentional attempted homicide. The prosecutors pointed out that state law would permit the court to sentence the girls as juveniles if they were convicted of a lesser charge. Wisconsin law automatically considers adolescents ten years old or older to be adults if they are charged with first-degree attempted homicide. The defense lawyers argued that the law should be found unconstitutional because when applied to their clients, the law was cruel and unusual punishment.
Ultimately, Judge Bohren decided that the case was to remain in the adult court system and was constitutional. He said, “There has to be assurance to the public and to these defendants as well, that a serious offense has to be dealt with on a serious basis that offers protection to everyone. The offense was frankly vicious. This was not happenstance. This was an effort to kill someone. This was premeditated.”
The Court has provided little guidance on how courts should decide whether to try the juvenile as an adult or keep them in the juvenile system.
The aftermath of this decision has added fuel to an already fiery debate among those who think the seriousness of the crime merits an adult type of sentence, versus those that believe that putting young people into an adult facility upon turning eighteen will actually increase recidivism. In Roper v. Simmons, the United States Supreme Court held that the execution of juvenile offenders is unconstitutional. Other than that decision, the Court has provided little guidance on how courts should decide whether to try the juvenile as an adult or keep them in the juvenile system.
For those who say that an adult punishment is needed for a serious crime committed by anyone, the focus is on the end result. No matter who committed the violent crime, it was committed and a victim was subsequently injured or killed. Supporters also argue that harsher sentences will be a deterrent effect for other juveniles who contemplate committing the same type of crime.
The juvenile system is more focused on the concept of rehabilitation, or on focusing on how to change the individual and build them up instead of incarceration like the adult system.
However, for those who disagree with juveniles being tried in adult courts, rehabilitation is the main reason. The juvenile system is more focused on the concept of rehabilitation, or on focusing on how to change the individual and build them up instead of incarceration like the adult system. The other difference between the adult system and the juvenile system is how juvenile crimes will be viewed. In the juvenile system, everything is viewed from a developmental lens. This means that there is a recognition that the person who committed the crime is still mentally developing. Ultimately, the difference in approaches between the adult and juvenile systems means that a juvenile tried in adult court will face much more incarceration time than someone in the juvenile courts.
It is unclear what will happen to these thirteen-year-old defendants in the Slender Man case now that it will be tried in adult court. However, the penalties the two girls face upon a possible conviction are substantial to say the least. The thirteen-year-old girls were expected to be in court on Friday, August 21, to enter pleas during an arraignment hearing.