WAUKESHA, Wisconsin — A pair of 13-year-old girls accused of trying to kill their friend as a sacrifice to a horror fiction character called Slender Man sat silently in court Friday, prompting the judge to issue a not guilty plea on their behalf.
Judge Michael Bohren also said the young teens will stand trial together starting Oct. 15.
Defense lawyers didn't object to the not guilty pleas, though they did protest the court's jurisdiction in the case. Attorneys for each girl said after the hearing that they believe the case should be tried in juvenile court.
"She was 12 years old when it happened," attorney Maura McMahon said.
Bohren decided recently that the case should remain in adult court, given the grim nature of the crime.
The girls each face a charge of attempted first-degree intentional homicide and could spend decades in prison if they're convicted in the 2014 attack.
Investigators say the suburban Milwaukee girls plotted for months to jump Payton Leutner after a sleepover. They intended to kill her, police say, to earn the favor of Slender Man, described in online fantasy stories as an unnaturally tall and thin creature who wears a dark suit and has no visible facial features.
Slender Man stories have proliferated in recent years, and the girls wanted to kill for him, in part, to prove his existence, police say.
The girls, 12 at the time of the stabbing, believed they would have a home in Slender Man's mansion after killing Payton, police say. After stabbing the girl and leaving her for dead, the girls started walking to a forest 300 miles away, where they believed Slender Man lived, police say.
Payton was stabbed 19 times, and one wound narrowly missed a major artery near her heart. After the attack, she crawled to a road and was found lying by a passing bicyclist.
She survived her wounds — a recovery her family has called "miraculous" — and returned to school within months.
The Associated Press has not identified the girls because an appeals court could move their cases to juvenile court, where proceedings are closed to the public.
Tony Cotton, who has been the lead attorney for one of the girls, said ahead of the hearing that his client would enter pleas of not guilty and not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect.
Defense attorneys have argued that the case belongs in juvenile court, saying the adolescents suffer from mental illnesses and won't get appropriate treatment in the adult prison system.
But Bohren refused that request recently, saying the girls should be in adult court, despite their age. He said if they were found guilty in the juvenile system they would be released when they turned 18 with no further supervision or mental health treatment.
The girls face 65 years in prison if convicted as adults. They have been in custody since being arrested the day of the attack.
The defense teams are awaiting a written order from the court in response to a previous request before they make their next move, and the judge said that order would come soon.