By Emily Zantow/Courthouse News
WAUKESHA, Wis. (CN) – A Wisconsin girl painted as the ringleader of an attempt to stab her friend to death to appease a fictional boogeyman was sentenced Thursday to 40 years in a mental institution.
Prosecutors claimed Morgan Geyser, 15, and Anissa Weier, 16, tried to stab their friend Payton Leutner to death in May 2014 to please 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 then-12-year-old girls had a sleepover. She survived after several surgeries.
Geyser and Weier were charged with attempted first-degree intentional homicide. The case made headlines around the world and the 2016 HBO documentary “Beware the Slenderman” brought renewed attention to the stabbing.
Geyser was portrayed as the ringleader in the stabbing by Weier’s defense attorneys, who said she enforced the delusion which led to the crime. Both girls claimed the other made the deal with Slenderman to kill Leutner, whom they say he chose as the victim.
The teens struck deals last year with prosecutors to avoid trial. Geyser agreed to plead guilty to attempted first-degree intentional homicide, with the stipulation that she would be found not guilty by reason of mental disease. Weier took a plea deal on the lesser charge of attempted second-degree intentional homicide as a party to a crime, with use of a deadly weapon. A jury found her
Waukesha County Circuit Court Judge Michael Bohren last month ordered Weier to spend 25 years in a mental institution in Winnebago, Wis.
On Thursday morning, he imposed a stiffer penalty on Geyser and sentenced her to 40 years in a mental facility, the maximum punishment sought by prosecutors.
Geyser will serve her sentence at a mental institution in Winnebago, Wis., where she has been since 2016.
“What we can’t forget is that this was an attempted murder. It would’ve been murder but just for simply time and the way the interference of what you might say serendipity occurred, the knife wound wasn’t placed in the exact way to kill her…she didn’t bleed to death and someone found her,” Judge Bohren said before handing down the sentence.
Geyser attended the sentencing hearing wearing her hair in a pony tail with glasses and a blue shirt. Her attorney Anthony Cotton asked the judge if her shackles could be removed for the hearing, but he denied the request.
The 15-year-old broke down in tears while giving a statement to the court.
“I just want everyone to let Bella and her family know how sorry [ I am]. I never meant for this to happen and I hope that she’s doing well,” Geyser said through sobs. Leutner went by the name “Bella.”
Three psychologists and the director of forensic services at the Winnebago mental health institution took the stand and answered questions about their evaluations of Geyser. The first psychologist, Dr. Brooke Lundbohm, said she supported Geyser’s “special plea.”
“She was suffering under the effects of a psychotic spectrum disorder at the time the events occurred,” she said.
Dr. Kenneth Robbins agreed, saying “it was her psychotic symptoms that led to the criminal conduct that took place in May of 2014.”
When Robbins first interviewed Geyser a month after the stabbing, he said she suffered from delusions, including an auditory hallucination she called “Maggie.”
“Morgan was quite psychotic at that time. Morgan believed, for example, that Slenderman was real. She believed a number of fictional characters were real, including characters involved in Harry Potter books,” Robbins testified. “She believed that she had special powers that would allow her to transport her mind to wherever she wanted it to be, so she didn’t have strong feelings about whether she ended up in an institute or a jail. She felt wherever she went she’d be fine. And Morgan was very frightened about what Slenderman might do to her and her family if she were to somehow betray Slenderman in her mind.”
Geyser has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and major depressive disorder and currently takes the anti-psychotic medications Abilify and Haldol, which Robbins said have been “really helpful.”
However, she also tells him she doesn’t like the medications and wishes she didn’t have to take them but recognizes they are important for her to take in order to maintain mental stability and to not go “psychotic,” as she calls it.
Robbins also said Geyser told him she doesn’t like the medications and wishes she didn’t have to take them, but recognizes they are important for her to maintain mental stability and not go “psychotic,” as she calls it.
“[Geyser] has a condition she didn’t choose to have. It’s a hereditary genetic condition that she’s cursed with… I think she deserves a lot of credit, because at a young age she’s done quite a lot to address it,” her attorney, Cotton, said during the hearing.
Geyser’s father also suffers from schizophrenia.
The witnesses agreed that Geyser has greatly improved since beginning treatment.
“We know her delusions have substantially diminished,” Dr. Kent Berney said.
“Morgan is a bright child and… treatment has been very effective,” Robbins said.
However, Lundbohm noted that Geyser had been brought back to the Winnebago facility after being sent to a detention center and experiencing “a deterioration in her mental health.”
“Winnebago at this point seems beneficial to her,” Lundbohm said.
Geyser’s attorneys pushed for her to be moved from the Winnebago mental facility, where she is currently the youngest person in her co-ed unit, to a residential facility with patients closer to her age.
Under Wisconsin law, a child over the age of 10 who is facing first-degree intentional homicide allegations is automatically charged as an adult. Although there is a civil adolescent unit within Winnebago, she can’t be transferred to it due to her adult legal status.
“She is an empathic, kind, compassionate woman who is very remorseful of what she has done and would not gain anything from remaining in an adult unit at Winnebago,” Robbins said.
Geyser currently participates in weekly one-on-one educational services at Winnebago but Robbins said the institution lacks proper education and adolescent peer socialization, which are key factors in her growth.
He also said Geyser has been free of psychotic symptoms since October 2017 but still experiences depression and anxiety, possibly stemming from post-traumatic stress disorder related to the stabbing.
Berney said she doesn’t pose many risk factors aside from a major mental health disorder.
“She does not present a substantial probability of risk of danger to self or others. Along with that, of course, is that she continues to get treatment. I believe because of her lack of dangerousness, she is appropriate for a less-restrictive setting,” Berney testified.
A report from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services recommended she remain institutionalized.
Cotton told reporters after the sentencing that the defense team plans to appeal the decision in six months, the time frame allotted by Judge Bohren.
The Slenderman character emerged online in 2009 and stories usually involve him stalking or abducting people, mostly children. He is depicted as a thin, tall man in a black suit with no facial features.
Photo: In this Oct. 5, 2017 file photo, Morgan Geyser, left, looks to her attorney Anthony Cotton as she appears in a courtroom in Waukesha, Wis. Geyser is one of two Wisconsin girls who tried to kill a classmate to win favor with fictional horror character Slenderman. (Michael Sears /Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel via AP)