Teen found not guilty by mental disease in Slender Man stabbing

WAUKESHA, Wis. - A jury late Friday agreed Anissa Weier should get treatment for the Slender Man delusion that led her to try and kill her sixth-grade classmate, and not go to prison for the crime.

Ten of 12 jurors agreed Weier, 15, was suffering from a mental disorder when she and Morgan Geyser tried to fatally stab their sixth-grade classmate in 2014, and that it prevented her from knowing her conduct was wrong, or from conforming her actions to the law.

Weier's attorney, Maura McMahon, said her client was relieved. Her parents also seemed relieved but declined to comment, as did the several members of the victim's family who were in the courtroom.

The jury first announced a verdict around 8 p.m., but Circuit Judge Michael Bohren rejected it because the jurors who agreed Weier had a mental condition weren't the same 10 who felt she couldn't conform to the law. After being referred to the jury instructions and deliberating some more, they announced a valid verdict at 10:48 p.m.

Weier was a bundle of nerves, crying as she was first led out to hear the first verdict, shaking rapidly throughout the hour of discussion and eventual rejection of the verdict that would have sent her to a mental hospital and saved her from a long prison sentence.

Bohren ordered her committed to the Department of Health Services, and ordered a predisposition investigation report returned by Oct. 2. In the meantime, Weier will remain at a West Bend juvenile jail where she has lived for three years.

Weier and Morgan Geyser were just 12 when they stabbed their friend 19 times and left her to die in some woods after a sleepover.  They later told investigators they had plotted the shocking offense to please Slender Man, an internet boogeyman, and the case became an international sensation and subject of an HBO documentary.

But it dragged on for years as experts tested their legal competency, and their lawyers fought unsuccessfully to have the case moved to juvenile court, suppress their statements to detectives, or have them released pending trial before they both finally entered insanity pleas.

Weier's attorneys then challenged the legality of that law as applied to a 12-year-old's thinking.

The jury of seven men and five women has been sequestered since Monday night while they heard Weier’s lawyers present their case that she should be found not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect. She pleaded guilty last month to attempted second-degree intentional homicide.

They relied heavily on three psychologists – two of them appointed by the court – who all agreed that Weier and Geyser’s friendship created a perfect storm of shared delusion.  Their belief in Slender Man grew so strong that they could not derail their plan to murder a classmate and therefore become proxies of Slender Man to avoid having him kill their families.

Prosecutors offered no evidence of their own, but argued Weier never had that fear until after the stabbing. As the two girls were tiring in the first hours of their planned 300-mile walk to Slender Man’s mansion in the forest, Weier had second thoughts. That’s when, she later told a detective, Geyser told her she’d made a deal with Slender Man, and if they didn’t join him, he would kill their families.

"It was never a kill-or-be-killed" scenario, Deputy District Attorney Ted Szczupakiewicz said in closing arguments. He disputed the defense claim that prosecutors were seeking vengeance. He said they only wanted the truth, and that Weier went along with the murder plot because she was desperate to keep Geyser as a friend.

"It was a choice she needed to be held criminally responsible for," he said.

Though Weier had introduced Geyser to the Creepypasta website where they learned about Slender Man – a tall, faceless man in a suit, with tendrils coming out his back – it was Geyser who later said they could become his proxies by killing a friend.

Szczupakiewicz argued that Weier had endless opportunities to tell an adult about her fear if it was real.

But her attorney, Maura McMahon, reminded jurors that the psychologists had explained that people suffering delusions often don't share them with others, and develop beliefs that only they can solve the problems the delusions present.

Weier's father was the first defense witness, and he described some family stresses in Anissa's life at the time, but said overall, he felt his daughter was a normal child whose behavior never made him question her mental health.

The doctors noted Weier's age, her unlucky friendship with Geyser (who was suffering from the early stages of schizophrenia) and the internet's rich supply of fake news about Slender Man. All combined to compel her to carry out their twisted plot, doctors said.

They also explained the science of adolescent brain development, how the areas that control impulse and judgment don't fully form until a person's twenties.

McMahon said justice would be putting Weier where she belongs, in a secure mental hospital.

 "There's no walking away for Anissa, no loophole," McMahon said. "There've been consequences for three years, and it will continue one way or the other."

Since her arrest, Weier has been held on $500,000 bail at a West Bend juvenile jail, where family members try to visit nearly every day. Geyser, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia early in the case, was eventually committed to a state mental hospital through a separate civil proceeding with a different judge.

Their victim, Payton Leutner, survived multiple surgeries and returned to school to start seventh grade the next fall. Her family's story was featured on the ABC News show 20/20, but they have not spoken with other news media, though her parents and other relatives appeared at nearly all the hearings in the case.

Szczupakiewicz played a short clip from Weier's hourslong recorded interrogation in which she tells a detective, "The silly thing is, I didn't know we were in danger until after Morgan stabbed (Leutner)." 

It was Weier's burden to prove by the greater weight of the evidence that at the time of the crime she suffered from a mental disease or defect, and that it prevented her from fully appreciating the wrongfulness of her actions, or from conforming her behavior to the law.

Pursuant to her plea deal, if the jury found she was not criminally responsible, Weier agreed not to seek release from a mental hospital or at least three years.

If the jury rejected Weier's plea, prosecutors would recommend a sentence of 10 years in prison plus 10 years of extended supervision. Bohren could sentence Weier to less time, or as much as 25 years in prison.

The jury went out shortly after 10 a.m. Around noon they asked to see Weier's recorded interrogation, portions of which were shown during the trial, and others of which have been widely seen during other hearings and news reports. The judge said they'd have to return to the courtroom for that and watch the entire three-hour interview.

Weier's attorneys asked if she could be excused for the video, in which she appears as a frightened, and alternately naive and matter-of-fact, 12-year-old trying to explain Slender Man and what had happened that day.

Her account includes detailed accounts of the plot, and how she had to turn away when Geyser finally stabbed their friend, who "was screaming in agony."

About 20 minutes into the video, it was stopped so technicians could prepare to mute out a few references to other juveniles. During the break, jurors asked if they could skip watching the rest, since they had seen what they wanted and that one of the jurors was "distraught and upset" by the video.

The prosecution was eager to grant the jury's request. The defense expressed more concern but finally agreed it did not want Bohren to order jurors to keep watching, and so they resumed deliberations about 2:20 p.m.

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