MILWAUKEE – Wisconsin's tough laws requiring children be charged as adults in homicide cases could mean a 12-year-old girl accused of stabbing a friend won't get help she needs, her attorney said Tuesday.
Waukesha County prosecutors have charged two 12-year-old girls in adult court with stabbing a friend the same age nearly to death in the woods. The girls told detectives they conspired for months to kill the other girl in hopes of pleasing Slenderman, a fictional character they read about on a horror website.
Wisconsin is one of 29 states in which juveniles of a certain age are automatically charged as adults, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Wisconsin law requires homicide or attempted homicide charges to be filed in adult court if the suspect is at least 10; lawmakers created the provision in 1996 to counter a rise in youths involved with gangs, drugs and guns.
Georgia, Illinois, New York and Oklahoma set the age for some automatic adult charges at 13.
Anthony Cotton, an attorney for one of the girls charged in the stabbing, said her parents called him while she was being questioned at the police station because officers had rejected their request to see her. Police read the girl her Miranda rights but were not required to have a parent or lawyer present if she didn't ask for them, he said.
Cotton said he would push to get the girl's case transferred to juvenile court, where more social services and mental health treatment would be available.
"She's 12 and she has mental health issues," Cotton said. "There's no question that she needs to go to the hospital."
The girls are being held at a juvenile detention center after a court commissioner set bail at $500,000. Cotton said that his client's family can't pay that and that his first request to move the girl to a hospital has already been rejected. He said he'll seek a mental health evaluation as a first step toward a second request.
"The younger the child the better the chance" of success, Cotton said. The odds also could improve if Waukesha County District Attorney Brad Schimel doesn't oppose the move.
Schimel, who is running for attorney general, called adult court a starting point for the case but said one could argue the girls deserve a harsher punishment than confinement until age 25, the maximum in the juvenile system.
"I realize they're only 12," said Schimel. "But so is the victim, and she came very close to not seeing her 13th birthday."
Juvenile arrests for homicide are relatively rare. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, of about 9.3 million juvenile arrests between 2007 and 2011 only 5,640 – less than half a percent – were for homicide or manslaughter. Forty-one of those arrested for homicide or manslaughter were girls.
The Associated Press isn't naming either girl who is charged because Cotton is seeking to move his client's case into juvenile court, where proceedings are secret.
Cotton said it could be months before a judge decides whether to move his client's case. Along with the girl's age and mental health, a judge would likely consider her family structure, the severity of the crime and any previous criminal record.
He said his client had no previous contact with police and her parents saw no warning signs. But, he added, things that might be troubling in an adult, such as make believe, wouldn't be in a child.
According to court documents, the girls invited the victim to a sleepover Friday. They stabbed her in a nearby park the next morning and then set off for a national forest in Wisconsin, where they believed Slenderman lived in a mansion.
The victim crawled to a road, where a bicyclist found her and called for help.
The other girl's attorney, public defender Joseph Smith, Jr., didn't return a telephone message seeking comment Tuesday.