MILWAUKEE (AP) — Wisconsin's tough laws requiring children be charged as adults in homicide cases could mean a 12-year-old girl accused of stabbing a friend won't get help she needs, her attorney said Tuesday.
Waukesha County prosecutors have charged two 12-year-old girls in adult court with stabbing a friend the same age nearly to death in the woods. The girls told detectives they conspired for months to kill the other girl in hopes of pleasing Slenderman, a bogeyman character they read about online. Each girl faces one count of first-degree attempted homicide with a knife enhancer and could get up to 65 years in the state prison system.
In Wisconsin, anyone 10 or older charged with homicide is automatically considered an adult. Four states have the next youngest threshold for that, at 13.
Anthony Cotton, an attorney for one of the girls, said he believed the two may be the youngest ever charged as adults in the county. He said he plans to push to get his client transferred to juvenile court, where he said she can get help. The state's juvenile system is geared toward rehabilitation rather than punishment; offenders can be held only until they're 25 years old.
"She's 12 and she has mental health issues," Cotton said of his client. "There's no question that she needs to go to the hospital."
Waukesha County District Attorney Brad Schimel called adult court a starting point for the case and noted that the allegations haven't been proven. But he added that one could argue the girls deserve a harsher punishment than confinement until age 25.
"I realize they're only 12," said Schimel, who is running for attorney general. "But so is the victim and she came very close to not seeing her 13th birthday."
According to court documents, the girls invited the victim to a sleepover Friday. They planned to stab her while she slept to become Slenderman's "proxies," Cotton's client told investigators. They planned to run off to Slenderman's forest mansion after the victim was dead.
They decided to kill her on Saturday instead. They went into the woods, where one girl pushed the victim down and sat on her. The girls then traded the knife back and forth between them before one of them finally tackled the victim again and began stabbing her, according to the complaint.
The girls left the victim lying in the woods. She crawled to a road where a bicyclist found her lying on the sidewalk. Police arrived and she gave them the name of one of the girls who attacked her.
Cotton said he didn't know if the allegations were true but if they were his client would have started plotting the attack when she was only 11. She needs help, not prison, he said.
Juvenile arrests for homicide are relatively rare. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, of about 9.3 million juvenile arrests between 2007 and 2011, some 5,640 — less than half a percent — were for homicide or manslaughter. Forty-one of those homicide or manslaughter arrests were females.
Wisconsin is one of 29 states that automatically place juveniles of certain ages in adult court, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The statutes require that anyone 10 or older charged with attempted or committed homicide is an adult; lawmakers created the provision in 1996 to counter a rise in youths involved with gangs, drugs and guns. Georgia, Illinois, New York and Oklahoma set the age for some automatic adult charges at 13.
Cotton said he plans to have a doctor evaluate the girl and present the findings to prosecutors in hopes they wouldn't oppose moving her into juvenile court. He then plans to present those findings to a judge, although he said it could be months before a decision comes.
His client told a detective she regretted the incident. The other girl told detectives they both stabbed the victim. At one point that girl said she was sorry.
The other girl's attorney, public defender Joseph Smith, Jr., didn't return a telephone message.
The Associated Press isn't naming either girl since their cases could end up in juvenile court where proceedings are closed to the public. Court documents don't list the victim's name.
Richmond reported from Madison, Wisconsin.