Slender Man stabbing: Should juvenile defendants be tried as adults?

Two Wisconsin girls charged with stabbing their classmate were 12 at the time of the crime. A judge is expected to decide Tuesday whether they will be tried as adults.

Michael Sears/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel/AP
Waukesha Police Detective Michelle Trussoni testifies during a preliminary hearing for two girls accused of stabbing a classmate to please the horror character Slender Man, Monday at the Waukesha County courthouse in Waukesha, Wis.

A Wisconsin judge is expected to decide Tuesday whether two Wisconsin girls who police say stabbed their classmate 19 times to placate a fictitious online character will be tried in juvenile or adult court.

The girls, who were 12 years old at the time of the near-fatal attack, each face one count of being a party to first-degree intentional attempted homicide. In Wisconsin, juveniles over the age of 10 charged with homicide or attempted homicide are automatically tried as adults.

If the girls are tried and convicted in adult court, the ramifications could be lifelong. Wisconsin law states that a person convicted as a juvenile must be released from the system at age 25. If the girls are convicted as adults, they could face up to 65 years in prison.

The case raises questions about when an underage individual should be tried as an adult.

“These mandatory adult sentences are highly controversial for many reasons. Not all juvenile offenders will commit crimes years later, as adults. Efforts to predict which juveniles will and will not continue to offend, regardless of treatment and rehabilitation efforts, have been largely unsuccessful,” wrote Tina Freiburger, associate professor and chair of the criminal justice department at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, in her blog for the Huffington Post.

Many critics of trying juveniles as adults also say that juveniles are not fully capable of comprehending the consequences of their actions and may not have complete control over their behavior.

The girls’ lawyers claim that their actions were inspired by Slender Man, an unusually tall fictional character that stalks and abducts children. The girls believed Slender Man would harm them if they did not kill, the lawyers have said.

The lawyer for one of the girls, Anthony Cotton, has been particularly vocal in advocating for a lesser charge in juvenile court for his client, saying she thought she was protecting herself and her family.

His client had allegedly drawn sketches of Slender Man in a notebook with phrases such as "never alone," ''safer dead," and "can't run."

Moreover, Mr. Cotton has said that the treatment his client is now receiving at a mental health institution is “markedly better” than the care she received while held in jail for several months following the May attack.

“Right now, she has one-on-one care, she has social workers, she has doctors, she has therapists,” he told the Associated Press in November. “There’s professionals who can look at her and monitor her and be involved in the sort of day-to-day treatment. Jails aren't equipped to do those types of activities, and they're certainly not equipped to do those things for children in most cases.”

Even if the girls are tried and convicted as adults, they would begin their prison terms in a juvenile facility. But opponents of trying the girls in adult court argue that the girls could be targets of abuse upon being transferred to adult prison at the age of 18.

But Assistant District Attorney Ted Szczupakiewicz, the lead prosecutor in the case, supports charging the girls as adults.

"There will be probable cause of the specific offense of attempted first degree intentional homicide which allows this matter, in fact, requires this matter to commence in the adult criminal court system," Szczupakiewicz said during the hearing, according to a local ABC affiliate.

It is up to the prosecution to prove that the girls should be tried as adults.

The American criminal justice system has placed numerous restrictions on sentences for juveniles. In 2005, the Supreme Court prohibited the death penalty for individuals who committed crimes before age 18. Life sentences without parole are also forbidden for individuals under age 18 who are convicted of any crime other than murder.

But Wisconsin is one of the toughest states for underage perpetrators. It has a direct-waiver law that automatically passes to adult court all jurisdiction over homicide cases involving juvenile offenders over the age of 10.

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