Doctors have found that one of the two 12-year-old Wisconsin girls accused of stabbing a classmate to please a fictional online horror character is mentally incompetent to stand trial, attorneys said Wednesday.
Prosecutors requested a hearing to discuss those conclusions, which came from one doctor hired by the defense and one appointed by the state.
In a sign they might expect the girl to plead insanity, the prosecution asked as well for an evaluation not only of the girl’s present condition, but also of whether mental disease was present at the time of the crime.
Waukesha County Judge Michael Bohren granted both requests and set the hearing for Aug. 1.
The girl and her co-defendant made separate court appearances, each wearing blue prison garb and walking slowly with their heads bowed and their cuffed hands clasped in front of them.
Prosecutors say the girls plotted for months to kill their 12-year-old friend to curry favor with the popular online specter known as Slender Man. They lured her to a park west of Milwaukee on May 31 and stabbed her 19 times in the arms, legs and torso, authorities said.
Doctors told police the knife narrowly missed a major artery near the girl’s heart. The child has since been released from a hospital and is recovering at home.
The two girls are charged in adult court with being party to attempted first-degree intentional homicide. The Associated Press is not naming them while there is a possibility their cases will be sent to juvenile court – the ultimate goal of both defense attorneys.
Wisconsin law says no defendant who is mentally incompetent to assist in his or her defense may be tried, convicted or sentenced. So that issue is a significant factor in whether court proceedings continue.
Typically when doctors for the state and the defense agree on a defendant’s incompetence, the judge halts proceedings and the defendant is committed to a mental hospital until he or she regains competence, at which point the case resumes.
However, instead of accepting the reports’ conclusions, deputy district attorney Susan Opper requested the hearing to discuss the findings further. It wasn’t immediately clear what she planned to argue or challenge. She left the courtroom without talking to reporters and did not immediately reply to an email or voicemail.
Opper also requested an examination to determine whether the girl had a mental disease or defect at the actual moment the crime was committed. That step doesn’t usually occur until a defendant enters an insanity plea, when a test is required to evaluate whether the plea is justified.
Defense attorney Anthony Cotton objected to the examination, noting that his client hadn’t entered a plea yet. But Opper said she suspected the question of mental disease or defect would become relevant at some point, and she’d rather have the doctor’s evaluation sooner rather than later.
Even if his client is found incompetent, Cotton wants court proceedings to continue. He said the law preventing a trial, conviction or sentencing wouldn’t bar the continuation of motion hearings, a preliminary hearing or attempts to have his client’s case moved to juvenile court.
“We didn’t raise the incompetence for strategic reasons,” Cotton said. “Our whole goal is to see she gets the help she needs.”
Joseph Smith Jr., the defense attorney for the second girl, said he had reason to believe mental competency would also be an issue in his client’s case, and he reserved the right to raise the issue down the line.
Smith had asked prosecutors to hand over their evidence, a process called discovery, earlier than is usual to help him prepare his defense. He said Wednesday that prosecutors had begun to share some evidence, and the judge granted his request for a follow-up hearing to make sure the process was completed.
Associated Press writer M.L. Johnson in Milwaukee contributed to this report.