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Doctors differ on preteen suspect’s mental state

By M.L. JOHNSON
Associated Press

Waukesha County Circuit Judge Michael Bohren discusses the case with an attorney, Monday, Sept. 15, 2014 in Waukesha, Wis. Bohren has halted court proceedings for one of two 12-year-old girls accused of trying to kill a classmate to please a fictional character called Slender Man. (AP Photo/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Michael Sears)

Waukesha County Circuit Judge Michael Bohren discusses the stabbing case with an attorney Sept. 15 in Waukesha. Bohren on Wednesday scheduled another hearing for Dec. 18 because the state’s doctor was not in court to testify Wednesday. (AP Photo/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Michael Sears)

WAUKESHA, Wis. (AP) — Doctors disagree over whether the second of two 12-year-old girls charged with stabbing a classmate to please the fictional horror character Slender Man is fit to stand trial, a judge and attorneys said Wednesday.

A state psychiatrist filed a report saying he found the girl mentally capable of helping with her defense, but defense attorney Joseph Smith Jr. questioned the state doctor’s qualifications and said he had a report from another doctor who disagreed.

Both reports are sealed, and Smith didn’t offer any details except to say he questioned whether Dr. Robert Rawski had the expertise to evaluate juveniles.

“You may not be looking at the things that are most important. And while it may be a valid opinion regarding an adult, when you’re dealing with someone who’s 12, it’s different,” Maura McMahon, another defense attorney helping the girl, explained after the hearing.

Waukesha County Judge Michael Bohren scheduled another hearing for Dec. 18 because the state’s doctor was not in court to testify Wednesday. Both sides are expected to call witnesses to testify then.

Prosecutors say the two girls plotted for months to kill their classmate before luring the child to a wooded park after a sleepover in Waukesha, west of Milwaukee, and stabbing her 19 times. Payton Leutner survived by crawling from the woods to a sidewalk where a bicyclist found her and called 911.

Wisconsin law requires suspects who are at least 10 years old to be charged as adults in severe crimes. Attorneys for the girls arrested in the stabbing have said they will try to get their clients’ cases moved back to juvenile court. The Associated Press is not naming the girls while their cases could still be moved.

Bohren ordered one of the girls to receive mental health treatment after a court-appointed psychologist testified in August that the girl claims to see and hear things that others cannot — including unicorns, Slender Man and Voldemort, an antagonist in the Harry Potter series. A hearing on her condition is set for Nov. 12.

Both girls’ attorneys have questioned whether they would receive appropriate care in the adult system, which is not designed for 12-year-olds.

But the juvenile court system might not be much better for the girls than the adult system, said Tina Freiburger, a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee professor who has studied the juvenile system. She said most children who end up in the juvenile system have been truant, missed a curfew or were involved in a minor crime, while the Slender Man case is rare in its violence.

“Luckily, we don’t have a lot of 12-year-olds going out and committing crimes like this,” Freiburger said. “That’s a good thing. But then the bad thing is that when we have it happen, we don’t have a system in place to really deal with their needs.”

Studies done in multiple states have found more than half of the children charged as adults have some type of mental illness, she said. But she wasn’t aware of any research that compared the mental health care provided to children in the adult system to that in the juvenile system to see which was more effective.

Some criminal justice experts have called for programs specifically for children charged as adults because of the mental illness, levels of violence and long criminal histories that often mark those cases, Freiburger said.

Associated Press writer Carrie Antlfinger also contributed to this report.

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