FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — A jury on Monday convicted a teenager of attempted murder in a vicious kicking and stomping attack on a girl outside a middle school in 2010, rejecting his claims of insanity.
The jury deliberated just over four hours before returning the guilty verdict in the trial of Wayne Treacy in the attack on then-15-year-old Josie Lou Ratley. Treacy, 17, could get up to 50 years in prison for the conviction of attempted first-degree murder with a deadly weapon — the steel-toed boots he used to nearly crush the girl’s skull.
The crux of the case was whether jurors would buy Treacy’s defense that he was not responsible because he suffered from severe post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from his brother’s suicide a few months before. The March 2010 attack happened after Ratley enraged Treacy by sending him a taunting text message about his dead brother.
Experts on both sides agreed Treacy has PTSD. But prosecution psychiatrists testified that Treacy clearly knew right from wrong and understood the consequences of his actions.
Treacy showed no emotion, staring straight ahead as the verdict was read. His mother and other family members avoided the media by ducking quickly out a side exit.
Prosecutor Maria Schneider said Ratley’s mother, Hilda Gotay, told her “thank you” in a text message shortly after the verdict was announced.
“If there are any young people watching this, I hope they realize that because you are angry, because you are upset, because you have issues, it is never OK to take things like this in your own hands and to act in this way,” Schneider said.
Ratley’s family said in a news release that it was “not a day to rejoice.”
“Thank you to the jury for having the courage to make the right decision,” they said.
Circuit Judge David Haimes said he would schedule sentencing at a later date.
Defense attorney Russell Williams said there will be an appeal, focusing in part on a police interrogation video that largely was not permitted into evidence.
The video, Williams said, could shed more light on Treacy’s troubled state of mind about two hours after the attack. Early in the video, Treacy calls himself a “monster” and says he could not remember committing the attack.
Williams also said the prison system isn’t built to handle young, mentally ill people.
“It’s unfortunate we have no place to put him. This is a terrible, terrible case,” Williams told reporters.
It all began with a common activity for millions of teenagers: rapid-fire text messaging. They sent dozens of messages in less than an hour.
Ratley and Treacy exchanged vulgar and insulting texts before the one about the brother was sent, and Treacy threatened earlier in the messages to kill the girl. But when she told him to “go visit your dead brother,” Treacy reacted in the strongest possible terms: “I swear to god I’m gonna kill you! I’ll (expletive) find you! Your (expletive) is cold, dead meat (expletive)!”
Trial evidence showed that after receiving Ratley’s text, Treacy either called or sent texts to several friends saying he was going to kill someone and would go to prison.
He wrote out a crude will. He put on steel-toed boots and black martial arts gloves, rode his bicycle to Deerfield Beach Middle School and had a friend point out Ratley, whom he had never met. Ratley earlier let that friend, Kayla Manson, use her cellphone to communicate with Treacy before the texts between the two of them started.
Dr. Hans Steiner, a Stanford University psychiatrist who testified for the prosecution, said Treacy’s calls and texts clearly showed that he knew his planned actions were wrong and that there would be serious consequences.
“He’s spelling out what he’s going to do. He’s spelling out that he is going to jail because of it. He knows he’s going to go away. He knows this is not going to end well,” Steiner testified.
Treacy chose not to take the stand in his own defense. Ratley, who suffered permanent brain injuries, also did not testify.
A defense psychiatrist, Dr. Alexander Neumeister, testified that Treacy was in a “dissociative state” after getting Ratley’s text in which he had little mental control over his actions, especially once Manson pointed out Ratley in her red shirt at the school’s bus loop.
“He saw something red and then he was on autopilot,” Neumeister testified. “There is no way that he knew what he was doing.”
Manson is charged as a juvenile with being an accessory to attempted first-degree murder and faces an August trial.