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Doctors: Suspect in stabbing better off in juvenile court

WAUKESHA, Wis. (AP) — One of the two Wisconsin girls charged with trying to kill a friend to please a mythical horror character would be better off in the juvenile justice system where potential treatment would be more suited to her needs, two psychologists testified in court Wednesday.

A judge in Waukesha County Circuit Court is expected to determine whether the girl, 13, should remain in adult court or be transferred to the juvenile system where a conviction would carry a lighter sentence.

The girl and a 12-year-old friend are accused of stabbing a classmate 19 times to gain favor with Slender Man, a fictitious character they believed could kill them or their families. Payton Leutner, now 13, survived the attack last May at a Waukesha park.

Dr. Michael Caldwell, a senior staff psychologist at Mendota Juvenile Treatment Center in Madison, met with the 13-year-old charged in the attack both in July and November. Caldwell testified the defendant suffered from delusions at the time Leutner was attacked.

“Her psychological maturity would have prevented her from thinking about or rationally evaluating some of those delusions,” Caldwell said. But he added that he believes the girl is no longer delusional.

“She’s at a remarkably low risk for any kind of violence,” he said, testifying for the defense.

Whether the judge decides to keep the girl in adult court or send her to the juvenile system, she would likely end up in the same place, Copper Lake School, a secure detention facility for girls in Lincoln County. The difference is the length of incarceration and treatment options.

If she remains in adult court and is convicted in the stabbing, she would be incarcerated in a juvenile facility until age 18, then transferred to an adult prison. If tried and convicted in juvenile court, she would likely be sent to Copper Lake, where she would be in secure detention for three years or less and receive treatment and supervision after she’s released.

Dr. Antoinette Cavanaugh, a forensic psychologist testifying for the defense, said the juvenile system is based on earning privileges, is more in tune with an adolescent mind, and offers the services the girl would need when re-entering the community. She said adult incarceration doesn’t provide “the same level of support or developmental services.”

Cavanaugh, who interviewed the defendant and reviewed investigative reports on the case, said she has done well in school and has family support.

The defense has asked Judge Michael Bohren to declare unconstitutional the underlying law that put the case in adult court. There was no indication when the judge planned to rule on the defense motion.

Wisconsin law requires children as young as 10 to be charged as adults for some crimes. The burden then falls to the defendant to prove the case belongs in juvenile court.

The Associated Press isn’t naming the defendants because it hasn’t been determined whether they will be transferred to juvenile court, where proceedings are closed to the public.

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