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Wisconsin girls in "Slenderman" attack should be tried as juveniles

June 4, 2014 - Andrea Johnson
How insane is a system that tries 12-year-old children as adults?

Last week, two very sick little girls in Wisconsin allegedly stabbed a 12-year-old classmate multiple times with a knife in the woods during a slumber party. Luckily, their victim survived and her two assailants were arrested. Earlier this week, the two girls were charged as adults by a Waukesha County, Wis. judge.

Though the girls' names and photographs have been splashed all over the national and international media, I'm not going to repeat the mistakes of my colleagues by publicizing the names of juveniles. Their lawyers are, rightfully, likely to try to have the cases transferred to juvenile court. However, I will say that the news coverage has made it crystal clear that these 12-year-olds are still very much children and probably mentally ill children at that. The girls had an obsession with some Internet monster creation called "Slenderman" that preys on children. They had read horror stories about him on a website called

According to the Daily Mail, the two middle school students believed that they were "proxies" of Slenderman and they had to kill their friend to prove their loyalty to him. After they killed the girl, they believed they would walk to Slenderman's supposed mansion in the woods of northern Wisconsin and live with him forever. One of the girls even took along a photo of her family so she wouldn't forget what they looked like while she was living with "Slenderman." If you are religiously inclined, it wouldn't be too hard to believe that the girls left themselves open to demonic possession.

Both girls have apparently been exposed to plenty of dark subject matter in their homes, too. The Daily Mail reports that the mother of one of the girls has posted numerous Goth-themed things online in the past few years such as pictures of skulls and graveyards. The girl's father is a death metal fan. The older brother of the other girl is a make-up artist for a local variety show called "Dead Man's Carnival." The photos of the girls show a pair of bespectacled nerds, kids it's easy to believe got so wrapped up in an online fantasy world that they were unable to completely distinguish myth from reality.

The crime they are alleged to have committed was horrific and the prosecutor alleges they have been planning the attack for months. The victim missed death by a millimeter. No one believes they should go unpunished and they will not. If they are tried as juveniles, the state can hold them until they are 25. They would miss all of the formative experiences of youth and young adulthood, like prom and high school graduation and college. But those 13 years in custody would also give them a chance to receive treatment for their very obvious mental illnesses and hopefully have a shot at some semblance of a normal life when they are released.

Children are not adults. Their brains are not fully developed; they do not the ability to control their impulses or to fully anticipate the future. They are more apt to lapse into fantasy than are adults. These particular little girls are not legally allowed to vote, to sign a contract, to work, to marry, to have sex, to join the military or fight in a war. Why on EARTH are prosecutors allowed to charge them and punish them like adults? If they are tried as adults, they could each receive a maximum of 65 years in prison, which would be cruel and unusual punishment under any rational legal system. Unfortunately, we do not have a rational legal system.


Article Comments



Jun-06-14 8:32 PM



Jun-06-14 4:36 PM

Sorry, but I would have to say that sounds about right, provided he wasn't still considered a danger to the public because of mental illness or ongoing aggression in the juvenile lockup.

Remember the story that came out last year about the guy who killed his parents and sister when he was a teenager back in the 1960s? He was sent to a mental hospital and eventually got out, changed his name and became a successful college professor. He also has not committed another crime in the last 40 years. Anne Perry, the famous mystery author, killed a woman when she was 15, got a few years in prison and successfully rebuilt her life with no further crimes. Juveniles have lower recidivism and are more easily rehabilitated than are adults who commit the same crimes. The brain isn't through developing until the early to mid-twenties.


Jun-06-14 3:21 PM

The maximum adult sentence was life without parole, but since the eighth grader was tried as a juvenile -- he did less than 6 years in prison for his triple murder spree.


Jun-05-14 10:57 PM

Juvenile detention or psych ward, with the option of an indefinite stay depending on the level of dangerousness.


Jun-05-14 8:03 PM

What about the kid in New Mexico that spent the morning killing his mother, his father and his little sister -- stopped for pizza and a Sprite -- and then buried their dead bodies in a pile of manure?


Jun-05-14 6:26 PM

And those laws are equally stupid and equally wrong. Children and adolescents should never be tried as adults.


Jun-05-14 6:22 PM

It's not unlike the conundrum of a minor who has consensual "relations" with another minor -- but then parents press police to bring charges involving violation of a child.

In most states, the age of the offender makes no difference as to the severity of a child molestation charge, since a minor cannot legally give consent -- to anyone.

In certain places, however, people have successfully argued for "Romeo & Juliet" laws that factor in the offender's age.


Jun-05-14 11:07 AM

I would argue that there should not be a difference. Every life is valuable. Giving harsher sentences if the person killed is under 12 or a police officer or a particular race or sexual orientation tends to imply that the lives of other victims are less valuable.

In this case, the perpetrators and the victim are the same age. It seems irrational to give them a harsher sentence for attacking a child when they are children themselves. But, of course, they should be punished in some fashion and if they are still a danger to others when they hit 25, I'm sure the state would be able to find some way to hold them in lockup.


Jun-05-14 7:18 AM

You say,"murder is murder," but obviously every state recognizes differences in degrees of murder -- and every state recognizes mitigators and aggravators in any given circumstance.


Jun-05-14 12:29 AM

Why do we have to factor in the age of the victim? Murder is murder. Guilt or innocence depends on factors like motive and premeditation but also on whether the killer was in control of his faculties. Twelve year olds have diminished culpability because they are children. That doesn't make the crime any less terrible.


Jun-04-14 8:02 PM

If we're going to factor in the age of the defendant, we must do the same for the victim. In some states, the attempted murder of a 12-year-old qualifies you for the death penalty.


Jun-04-14 7:26 PM

I don't think the age of the kid ought to make much of a difference. It would be just as horrible if they had assaulted a 30 year old or a 90 year old. A life is a life. And we are still talking about 12-year-olds who probably can be salvaged. We have a very screwed up legal system.


Jun-04-14 7:15 PM

Agreed. But, here in this "frenemy" situation, the victim was also 12-years-old.

The victim's age is an aggravator that raises this beyond even the level of a typical adult attempted murder charge.


Jun-04-14 7:05 PM

Yes, it appears to have been premeditated, but we're still talking about 12-year-olds who should not be held as culpable for their actions as are adults. Kids have a better chance of being rehabilitated than adults do, too.


Jun-04-14 6:48 PM

Great opinion article!

The problem for these girls is the premeditation and luring of their child victim into an ambush.

The 19 knife stabs preclude the notion of a childhood fantasy gone wrong.

It takes more than raunchy music and make-up to prompt a person -- of any age -- to actually stab and murder like that.

The normally appropriate juvenile system does not contemplate such shockingly horrific violence and depravity.

This recalls the case of 15-year-old Holly Harvey and her girlfriend, Sandy Ketchum. They were sentenced to two consecutive life sentences for ambushing and knifing Harvey's grandparents to death.


Jun-04-14 5:54 PM

We do not allow -- or should not allow -- crime victims to write sentencing guidelines or allow for laws based on vengeance. I'd probably want them put away for life too if I were the mother of the victim, but that isn't something that should be allowed.

The problem is, as seems to be all too often, with the mental health and legal systems as well as with the parenting of the girls. I don't think it's healthy to allow girls of this age to be unsupervised online or to be so wrapped up in horror stories, though most kids are able to distinguish fantasy from reality. These little girls seem to have been vulnerable in a way that most kids are not. Kids with mental illness are at greater risk of getting wrapped up in this sort of toxic fantasy world. We need to do a better job of identifying and treating those illnesses.


Jun-04-14 5:32 PM

All I can say is I'm glad I'm not the one who has to decide how they are tried or what their punishment is. This is a truly scary situation and if I were the parent of the girl who was stabbed, I bet I would feel the attackers should be put away for life. I agree with many of the reasons you've given for not treating these girls as adults. But who should be held accountable? A society that thinks it's OK for children to be that wrapped up in fantasy? Parents who, in my opinion, maybe weren't typical but don't sound abusive?


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