CHICAGO: Jury selection began Monday in the trial of one of two US teens accused of stabbing a friend to appease a fictitious internet character, in a case that sparked a TV documentary “Beware the Slender man.”
Anissa Weier and Morgan Geyser — now 15, but 12 years old at the time of the 2014 crime — were charged with attempted first-degree murder for the brutal attack blamed on their belief in Slender Man — an online horror villain.
Weier pleaded guilty in August to a reduced attempted second-degree homicide charge in a Wisconsin court. Her trial will determine her mental health and whether she is to be sentenced to prison or a hospital.
The two girls are accused of stabbing a friend, Payton Leutner, 19 times at a park. A bicyclist found Leutner, who survived the attack, and helped her get to a hospital.
The incident inspired the 2016 HBO documentary “Beware the Slenderman.”
The girls told police they were trying to please the fictitious character, and believed he would hurt their families if they did not stab their friend.
“Morgan jumped on top of Bella and started stabbing her repeatedly, and that’s when I turned around because I couldn’t stand to see that,” Weier told police in an interrogation video made public, using a nickname for the victim.
Geyser, during her own police interview, claimed it was Weier who jumped on Leutner and “held her to the floor.”
“I think Anissa stabbed her first, and then I continued.”
Both teens have asserted insanity defenses. Geyser is to stand trial later this year.
In the first morning of jury selection Monday, Waukesha County Circuit Judge Michael Bohren dismissed 24 from the initial group of potential jurors, US media reported.
The court needs 16 jurors, and has sent questionnaires to hundreds of candidates.
Under the terms of Weier’s guilty plea, prosecutors would recommend 10 years in prison if the jury rejects her insanity defense.
But she would be committed to a mental hospital for at least three years if the jury finds her impaired by mental illness.
Psychologists testified in pre-trial hearings that Weier suffered from depression and a delusional disorder that made it difficult to tell reality from fantasy, according to US media.
Geyser was being treated at a mental hospital for schizophrenia.
Several jurors on Monday expressed skepticism of an insanity defense.
“They think they get can off with a lesser penalty — just put ’em in a nut house a couple years and let them out,” the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel quoted one potential juror as saying.
That juror, along with the other skeptics, was dismissed, the newspaper reported.
The trial is scheduled to last until September 21.