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Judge considers adult or juvenile court for Wisconsin girl charged in stabbing of classmate

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WAUKESHA, Wisconsin — One of the two Wisconsin girls charged with trying to kill a friend to please a fictitious horror character would have her mental health issues better served in juvenile court, defense attorneys told a judge Wednesday.

Waukesha County Circuit Judge Michael Bohren said he will issue a ruling Aug. 10 on whether the 13-year-old and her 12-year-old friend should be moved from adult court to the juvenile system. The 13-year-old had a two-day hearing that ended Wednesday, but Bohren said he will wait until after the 12-year-old's hearing on the same issue next month before making a decision.

Defense attorney Maura McMahon told the judge the 13-year-old has shown remorse and needs the therapy that the juvenile system could provide.

"This is a child who needs help for what she did," McMahon said, adding that there's a 200-person wait list at the women's prison for the services the girl needs.

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

McMahon told the judge that the 12-year-old gave her client the knife three times that day in the park, but that the 13-year-old could not stab Payton. The girls face up to 65 years in prison if convicted in adult 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.

Dr. Michael Caldwell, a senior staff psychologist at Mendota Juvenile Treatment Center in Madison, testified he met with the 13-year-old charged in the attack both in July and November. Caldwell said 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," said Caldwell, who testified for the defense. 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.

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, 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 the girl has done well in school and has family support.

The defense has asked Bohren to declare unconstitutional the underlying law that put the case in adult court. Wisconsin law requires children as young as 10 to be charged as adults for some violent crimes. It's up to the defendant to prove the case should be tried in adult court.

Bohren said he will give the state attorney general an opportunity to weigh in on the defense motion before ruling.

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