By Emily Zantow, Courthouse News Service
WAUKESHA, Wis. (CN) – Jurors in the upcoming trials of two Wisconsin girls accused of trying to stab their friend to death to please a fictional boogeyman will be isolated from the public during the proceedings, a state judge has ruled.
Anissa Weier and Morgan Geyser are both being tried as adults on attempted first-degree intentional homicide charges for allegedly trying to stab their friend Payton Leutner to death in May 2014 to appease Slenderman, a fictional horror character.
Leutner was found crawling out of woods with 19 stab wounds near Geyser’s home in Waukesha, Wis., the morning after the three 12-year-old girls had a sleepover.
Both girls, now 15, have pleaded not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect.
Attorneys for both girls motioned for jury sequestration on July 10. They argued that the juries must be sequestered, or isolated from the public and news coverage, due to the high publicity surrounding the case. TV, newspapers and social media might sway the jury, they said.
On Thursday, Waukesha County Circuit Court Judge Michael Bohren granted the request in a two-page order.
“Due process requires that the accused receive a trial by an impartial jury free from outside influences. Given the pervasiveness of modern communications and the difficulty of effacing prejudicial publicity from the minds of the jurors, the trial court must take strong measures to ensure that the balance is never weighed against the accused,” Bohren wrote, quoting the 1967 Wisconsin case State v. Alfonsi. (Emphasis added by the judge.)
At a hearing on July 25, Judge Bohren had said he was satisfied with the media’s coverage and that it had neither “been prejudicial or inflammable.”
But Thursday’s order of sequestration notes that “the ‘pervasiveness of modern communications’ is significantly different today from the era of the Alfonsi decision,” which increases “the potential of third party efforts to influence the jury during the trial.”
At a hearing for Weier on Friday morning, the judge ordered two possible jurors to fill out questionnaires they claimed they already sent in. Ten other jurors were issued arrest warrants for failure to show up to court for the questionnaires.
Jury instructions for Weier’s case will be presented on Aug. 21, and Geyser has a status conference that same day.
The girls’ defense attorneys also fought to get their confessions thrown out and for a change of venue, but those requests were denied.
Weier’s jury trial begins Sept. 11 and Geyser’s follows on Oct. 16.