WAUKESHA, Wis. (CN) — A Wisconsin appeals court Wednesday upheld the decision to charge a local teenager as an adult for the 2014 attempted murder of her friend and classmate on the orders of Slenderman, a faceless fictional boogeyman.
A unanimous three-judge panel of the Wisconsin Court of Appeals’ district branch in Waukesha disagreed with Morgan Geyser’s appeal arguing the Waukesha County Circuit Court should have processed her in juvenile instead of adult court, where she eventually pleaded guilty to attempted first-degree intentional homicide and avoided trial.
In accordance with a stipulation in her plea deal, the circuit court found Geyser not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect and committed her to the state department of health services for a period of up to 40 years.
On the morning of May 31, 2014, Geyser and Anissa Weier stabbed their friend Payton Leutner in the woods near Geyser’s home in Waukesha while playing hide-and-seek after the three 12-year-old girls had a sleepover together.
The girls believed they had to murder their friend to appease Slenderman, a cryptic internet character that originated as an online meme in 2009 and soon found wide circulation on social media platforms and internet horror forums. The tall, thin, black-suited character’s mythology includes stalking the woods, kidnapping children and paranormal mental abilities to cause amnesia and influence paranoid behavior.
Geyser convinced Weier that the murder would prove their loyalty to Slenderman as his “proxies.” Geyser later said she believed Slenderman would kill her or her family if she did not kill Leutner and claimed that the character had previously visited her when she was a toddler.
Leutner was found crawling from the woods to a nearby road with 19 stab wounds later on the day of the attack. She survived her injuries after several surgeries and a weeklong stay at the hospital.
Geyser and Weier were found by sheriff’s deputies in tall grass near the freeway hours after the stabbing. They said they were walking to Slenderman’s mansion in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, about 300 miles away in northern Wisconsin.
Both girls were charged with attempted first-degree intentional homicide and pleaded out of trial as the morbid case made global headlines and inspired the 2016 HBO documentary “Beware the Slenderman,” bringing renewed attention to the stabbing.
Geyser, who came up with the original murder plan and began devising with Weier for months ahead of the attack, was sentenced in February 2018 to 40 years in a mental institution. Weier was given 25 years, also in a mental institution.
Judge Mark Gundrum roundly rejected Geyser’s arguments for juvenile court jurisdiction and a less severe sentence of attempted second-degree intentional homicide in Wednesday’s appeals court decision.
“In this case, the court properly maintained adult-court jurisdiction and bound Geyser over for trial as it found that the state had established probable cause that she had committed the charged adult-court-jurisdiction-conferring offense of attempted first-degree intentional homicide,” Gundrum wrote. “That was all that was needed to maintain adult court jurisdiction and bind Geyser over for trial.”
Geyser, represented by Matthew Pinix with Milwaukee firm Pinix & Soukup, argued that the case was mitigated to the lesser charge, over which the adult court does not hold exclusive jurisdiction, due to her belief that Slenderman would kill her or her family if she did not kill Leutner.
Gundrum did not believe the arguments for Geyser’s use of “unnecessary defensive force” trumped binding her over in adult court due to the reasonable likelihood that she committed attempted first-degree intentional homicide under the plain language of Wisconsin statutes.
“We do not interpret the circuit court’s recitation as to Geyser’s motives for attacking the victim as amounting to a conclusive finding that undermines, at the preliminary hearing stage, the court’s unambiguous finding that probable cause existed that Geyser committed attempted first-degree intentional homicide,” the judge said.
Gundrum also disposed of Geyser’s argument that the state had a burden to disprove her affirmative defense of unnecessary defensive force at her preliminary hearing.
Geyser, now 18, also contended in her appeal that, due to her young age and mental state, she did not knowingly waive her Miranda rights during a custodial statement she made to a Waukesha Police Department detective hours after the attack, in which she admitted she and Weier had pre-planned the attack and offered details of the crime.
Despite Geyser’s defense’s arguments that she did not fully understand the legal system and suffered from hallucinations brought on by mental illness, Gundrum insisted Wednesday that “we need not determine whether the court erred in declining to suppress this statement because even if it did, such error was harmless as we are convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that even if the statement had been suppressed, it would have made no difference.”
“Even without the admission at a trial of Geyser’s statement to [the detective], the evidence of Geyser’s guilt for the charged offense of attempted first-degree intentional homicide as a party-to-the-crime would be overwhelming,” the judge said.
Gundrum did not buy Geyser’s claim that the denial of her suppression made a guilty verdict a foregone conclusion and that if it had been suppressed she may have convinced the jury of a lesser sentence, negotiated a more favorable resolution with the state or even avoided liability altogether, specifically calling the last scenario “utter folly.”
Wisconsin Court of Appeals Judges Lisa Neubauer and Paul Reilly rounded out the three-judge panel.
In an emailed statement Wednesday, Pinix stated that “Morgan’s fight is not over.”
The attorney said that “the court of appeals dodged serious issues in the case and admittedly struggled with some of the areas of law” and added that “this case is definitely one that the Wisconsin Supreme Court should decide.”
“We will be asking the supreme court to take the case and put Wisconsin on the right track with juvenile defendants by admitting that Morgan’s statement should never have been used against her,” Pinix said.