Tag Archive for 'wisconsin'

Guilty or Insane: A Closer Look at the Slender Man Killing

Two twelve-year-old girls lead their friend into a forest in Wisconsin. They start playing hide and go seek. Then, the two girls attack their friend. Stabbing her 19 times with a knife, they hit her liver, pancreas, and stomach. They only miss hitting an artery near her heart by a millimeter.

The victim crawls out of the woods to a road after her attackers have fled; almost bleeding to death, she’s found by a bicyclist. Miraculously, she survives.

Slender Man KillingAlthough this sounds like a horror movie, it’s a true story that occurred in Wisconsin on May 30, 2014. Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier were the perpetrators who almost stabbed their friend, Payton Leutner, to death.

What influenced this murderous act? What could have had such an effect on these two young girls, to make them want to kill their friend? It all started from a completely fictional online character: Slender Man.

Slender Man was created by Eric Knudsen, who submitted a Photoshopped picture to the online forum Something Awful. The character was created for the websites contest for fake supernatural photographs.

Morgan Geyser, top left, Anissa Weier, bottom left, Slender Man on the right.

The two girls discovered the character on Creepypasta Wiki, and immediately decided to become “proxies” of him. In order to please Slender Man and prove their dedication to him, they believed they had to kill someone. Which is what led them to attempt murder on Leutner.

This case exemplifies just how powerful social media can be. According to Waukesha Police Chief Russell Jack, “The Internet has changed the way we live. It is full of information and wonderful sites that teach and entertain. The Internet can also be full of dark and wicked things.” Although necessary in this digital age, the internet can produce a blurry line between real life, and online personas.

Both girls have been tried as adults, and can face up to 65 years in prison. The next court date is December 18, 2014. Geyser, deemed incompetent to stand trial, will attend treatment with a possibility of becoming competent enough to attend court.

So, are the girls guilty or insane? If Geyser’s attorney was to defend her based on an insanity defense, she would have to take the Model Penal Code test. This test is used in Wisconsin insanity defense cases. The test determines if the defendant suffers from a mental defect. This determines if the defendant “either failed to understand the criminality of his acts, or was unable to act within the confines of the law”.

We won’t know the answer to this question until the trial is over, and for a case like this, it could be a while. This horrific case shows just how powerful social media can be. It’s vital to make the lines crystal clear between real life and social media personas you may have. Getting caught up online can get you into a lot of trouble; in a professional, social, or even legal manner.

Cheerleading for Tort Reform, One Broken Bone at a Time

cheerleaderA recent case out of Wisconsin has given cheerleaders something more to cheer about. The Supreme Court of Wisconsin has ruled that cheerleaders, as participants in a contact sport, are immune from civil liability for accidental injuries caused during cheerleading related activities. The case reversed a lower court’s decision to hold a local cheerleader liable for failing to catch his 16 year old teammate during a routine. She fell backward off her teammate’s shoulders, seriously injuring her head and neck.

The state’s highest court applied a state law shielding participants in “contact sports” from most personal injury lawsuits. The law is well known and common throughout every state. Reckless or intentional injuries are still actionable, such as hitting an opponent in the face with your hockey stick. Injuries resulting from tackling the quarterback or knocking over a forward on a pick and roll, however, won’t end up in court, and for good reason. Almost every sport in the country would probably be buried in an avalanche of lawsuits.

What makes this case interesting is characterizing cheerleading as a “contact sport” under Wisconsin law. The relevant statutory language describes a contact sport as any recreational activity involving physical contact between persons in a sport involving teams. Well, there is at least one “team.” And they definitely come into contact with each other. But a contact sport? The lower court didn’t think so, citing that normal usage of the term meant opposing teams must come into contact with one another.  

In this blogger’s cynical opinion, what motivated this reversal was not an appeal to clear statutory interpretation, but the same pragmatic considerations for immunizing participants that come into play for other sports. In other words: policy. Almost 1/3rd of all catastrophic injuries to high school female athletes in the United States occur during cheerleading. Even though it may not be the biggest draw on ESPN, cheerleading is a popular activity. (Or sport, or whatever you want to call it). Ensuring that cheerleading has an affordable future free of multi-million dollar insurance contracts for participants is certainly an important consideration.

Although a case about cheerleading may not jump out as the most obvious foil for a debate on judicial decision making, this case has all the elements. A statutory interpretation that could go either way, along with policy considerations that are not clear in the statute but undoubtedly under consideration by the judges. Interestingly however, both a textualist and a pragmatist can find common ground with this decision. The law was written ambiguously enough that cheerleading could plausibly be considered a “contact sport” under the law of Wisconsin. And, important policy considerations for ensuring the continued survival of cheerleading are recognized and supported, even though they are not clearly spelled out in the law.

Perhaps we all therefore have something to cheer about?