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A number of our readers have questioned the ruling that Morgan Geyser – one of the two 12-year-old Wisconsin girls accused of repeatedly stabbing their supposed friend to impress the fictional Internet character Slenderman – is not competent to stand trial. This case seems to engender so many issues: assumptions about friendship, the legal age of responsibility, the line between fantasy and reality, nature versus nurture in child raising, the existence of evil.

So what does this competency ruling mean and how will it affect the disposition of the case?

The ruling could have a major impact on the legal proceedings. One supposition is that Miss Geyser’s attorneys are trying to get the case moved from adult court to juvenile court, where the penalties are softer and the emphasis is more on correction and rehabilitation than on punishment and warehousing. But on a practical level, I’m not sure the ruling will affect the ultimate outcome.

First of all, she will remain in custody. Second,  we have to understand that this is not the same as an insanity defense. All the ruling asserts is that the defendant is not competent to understand the process in which she is involved, nor to aid in her own defense at this time. That could change at any point through therapy, medication or reexamination. It says nothing about her mental state at the time of the attempted murder or whether her intellectual capacity was diminished. One way or another, if evidence proves that Miss Geyser and her alleged accomplice Annisa Weier committed the crime with which they have been charged, they are not going to be free to go back to their old lives.

The two allegedly planned this attack for months. And they allegedly did it to get into the good graces of a cartoon character whom they set out to visit. Taken together, those two apparent facts demonstrate some seriously disordered thinking along with any malice aforethought. And unless the defense theory is that the state has it wrong and these two were not the ones who stabbed the other 12-year-old girl – an extremely unlikely scenario – any attorney is going to have to plead some kind of diminished capacity, even if it is not out and out temporary insanity. This may have no bearing on the verdict, but it could have significant bearing on the sentence.

Still, if found guilty, whether these girls are punished as adults or juveniles, it is going to be a long time before they are not in some kind of custody. And that, with little doubt, is as it should be.

6 Responses to In the Shadow of Slenderman

  1. Cornerstone says:

    It’s just case after case of crimes committed by young people with delusional thinking because they’re too caught up in games or other media with fictional characters and don’t have enough parental intervention, apparently, to ground them in reality. There is no way a kid could be so caught up in something and the parent not notice it if they had any interest whatever in supervising their kid. This happens when the greater influence in a child’s life is media, as opposed to parents and school. It’s nuts.

    • Heth365 says:

      Though I agree parental supervision needs to be better, I disagree that we should blame the media, be it video games or television. Extremely violent behavior happened long before television and certainly long before video games. Personally I think lawyers use it as an excuse to deflect responsibility off their defendants. Does it de-sensitize people to violence? Most likely. Is it fraught with fantastical elements? Absolutely. Is this enough to turn a normally well adjusted child to begin a life of depravity? Highly doubtful. We bought every video game console and associated game possible when I was growing up. Not once did I ever have the urge to commit a crime, especially harming another. With that said, children who are pre-dispositioned, grow up in homes that are neglectful and abusive, and are exposed to it? In those instances it may be the final push if they truly can’t understand the difference between right and wrong. Still, that goes back to monitoring what they watch and do, and more importantly, intervening.

  2. Kristin says:

    This post was a great help to me because I was unaware that “not competent to stand trial” and the insanity defense are two separate things. I’m not any kind of legal expert, so having the distinction made clear was helpful.

    If, as you stated, this girl’s competency changes through therapy or medication, what bearing (if any) does that have on the legal process?

    I understand why the attorneys would want to attempt to rehabilitate an offender who is so young, rather than see her imprisoned. I know that in some cases (like Hulme-Parker) rehabilitation is possible and these girls might go on to lead productive lives. My first response when I heard about the crime was two-fold and presented me with an intellectual dichotomy: “they MUST be crazy” and “my god, how can you plan something like that?” My thoughts on their punishment fall along the same lines: “I hope they get the help they need” and “I sincerely hope they’re locked up.” Because I work with teens, I know some who are capable of malicious cruelty … but I also know some who are badly mentally disordered as well; the two conditions are not mutually exclusive.

    It will be interesting to see how their attorneys decide to plead and whether the jury feels sympathy for these girls whose thinking was, in one sense, CLEARLY disordered … (as I mentioned in another post, the Slenderman character, to the best of my knowledge, in no way requires a sacrifice of any kind nor makes any promise of fortune to those who offer him one) but yet also seemed lucid enough to have planned the attack for months.

    I hope you’ll continue to write more about this case as it goes to trial!

    • I think you’ve summed up the issue very well, Kristin. I think we all want to see these girls sufficiently punished, but since their alleged crime is so beyond rational thought, we want to see if they can be “straightened out.” As much as I consider myself a tough law and order proponent, I don’t think you can write off a 12-year-old, regardless of what she’s done.

      • Zeno says:

        How do we know this explanation itself is not simply a way for them to get a lighter sentence? By blaming it on a carton character they could be trying to get lesser punishment. I do not know the details of this case,merely raising the possibility of this.

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