Doctors find 1 of 2 preteens charged with stabbing 12-year-old friend mentally incompetent
WAUKESHA, Wis. (AP) — Doctors believe that one of the two 12-year-old Wisconsin girls accused of stabbing a classmate to please a fictional character is not mentally competent to stand trial, attorneys said Wednesday.
The prosecution immediately requested a hearing to discuss the conclusions, which assess whether the girl is capable of assisting in her own defense. One of the psychologists was hired by the defense and the other is a state-appointed doctor.
Prosecutors also asked that the girl be given a separate evaluation to determine whether she had mental disease at the moment the crime was committed. The move suggests they’re preparing for a possible insanity plea.
Waukesha County Judge Michael Bohren granted both requests and set the hearings for Aug. 1.
The girl, who according to the criminal complaint told police she stabbed the victim some 17 times, appeared in court separately from her co-defendant. Each wore blue prison garb and shuffled along slowly, 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 victim’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 chance their cases will be sent to juvenile court — the ultimate goal of both defense attorneys.
Wisconsin law says no defendant who is mentally incompetent 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. If the defendant regains competence, the case resumes.
However, rather than accept the doctors’ conclusion, deputy district attorney Susan Opper requested a hearing so the judge could consider the issue further.
“It is up to the court, not the doctors, to decide” the issue of competency, Opper told The Associated Press in an email. “Competency to stand trial constitutes a judicial inquiry, not a medical determination.”
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 the question of mental disease could 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 prevents a trial, conviction or sentencing but it wouldn’t bar a preliminary hearing or efforts to have his client’s case moved to juvenile court.
“We didn’t raise the incompetence issue for strategic reasons,” Cotton said. “Our whole goal is to see she gets the help she needs.”
Opper said she would likely oppose any effort to continue if the girl were declared incompetent, citing state law that the court “shall suspend the proceedings” under such circumstances.
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. He asserted his right to raise the issue down the line.
Associated Press writer M.L. Johnson in Milwaukee contributed to this report. Dinesh Ramde can be reached at email@example.com.