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Home / Wire Stories / Across the Region: Wisconsin girl pleads mental illness in Slender Man attack
Morgan Geyser is led into the courtroom Aug. 19 in Waukesha, Wisconsin. Geyser, one of two girls accused of trying to kill a 12-year-old classmate two years ago, pleaded not guilty Friday by reason of mental disease or defect. (AP photo: Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel)

Across the Region: Wisconsin girl pleads mental illness in Slender Man attack


Girl pleads mental illness in Slender Man attack

One of two girls accused of trying to kill a 12-year-old classmate to please horror character Slender Man two years ago pleaded not guilty Friday by reason of mental disease or defect.

Morgan Geyser, 14, entered her plea to one count of attempted first-degree intentional homicide during a status conference in Waukesha County Circuit Court. Judge Michael Bohren appointed two doctors to examine her.

Her attorney, Tony Cotton, said in a telephone interview after the conference ended that he felt the facts of the case fit a mental illness plea. Experts have testified already that Geyser suffers from schizophrenia and oppositional defiant disorder and maintains relationships with imaginary characters.

Bohren said he will look to schedule a trial in March or as soon as prosecutors and Cotton are ready. If Geyser is convicted, the mental illness plea necessitates another trial to determine her mental state at the time of the crime, Cotton said. If she’s found mentally deficient, she would be ordered confined to a mental hospital. If she’s deemed mentally fit, she would serve up to 40 years in prison and 20 years on extended supervision.

The other girl in the case, who is now 14 as well, also faces one count of attempted first-degree intentional homicide. She pleaded not guilty last year. Bohren on Thursday said he would look to schedule her trial for March as well.

According to court documents, the girls invited their classmate, Payton Leutner, to a birthday sleepover in May 2014. All three girls were 12 years old at the time.

The next day they lured Leutner into some woods at a Waukesha park, stabbed her repeatedly and then fled. Leutner suffered 19 stab wounds, including one that doctors said narrowly missed a major artery near her heart. Leutner crawled to a road where a bicyclist found her.

Police captured Geyser and the other girl on Waukesha’s outskirts later that day. They told investigators they had hoped killing Leutner would gain them favor with Slender Man, a demon-like character featured in online horror stories. They said they were planning to walk 300 miles to the Nicolet National Forest, where they hoped to live as Slender Man’s servants in his mansion.

Leutner recovered from her wounds and returned to school that fall.



Lawyer acquitted of jury tampering files suit

After Iowa lawyer Raymond Tinnian was found guilty of disorderly conduct, investigators had an obvious suspect when jurors and witnesses started receiving threats. Other than Tinnian, who else would leave a type-written note threatening to kill a juror for “your verdict”?

But Tinnian alleges in a federal lawsuit filed Monday that investigators rushed to judgment, were fooled by his longtime enemy and arrested and charged the wrong man. Tinnian, who was acquitted last year, contends that investigators ignored and withheld evidence that suggested Thomas Harbit framed Tinnian for the jury tampering.

Tinnian, a criminal defense lawyer based in Kalona, is suing Johnson County Attorney Janet Lyness, an assistant and two Coralville police officers for allegedly violating his civil rights. He says he was wrongly arrested, had his home illegally searched and spent 16 days in jail on a $100,000 cash-only bond after they falsely accused him and failed to investigate Harbit. He is seeking to be compensated for his humiliation and loss in income along with punitive damages.

Lyness declined to comment. Harbit, who hasn’t been charged, didn’t return a message.

Tinnian and Harbit once worked together at the Coralville law office of Dennis Bjorklund, a notoriously unethical attorney who represented drunken driving defendants. Harbit, a substance abuse counselor, and Bjorklund had an improper arrangement in which they conducted sham substance abuse evaluations and charged excessive fees.

Tinnian reported their ethical violations, leading to the suspension of Harbit’s counseling license and disbarment of Bjorklund for fraud in 2006. Bjorklund was indicted in 2010 on charges that he defrauded clients and evaded taxes and spent five years running from the FBI until his capture last year.

Tinnian alleges that Bjorklund and Harbit tried to ruin his life after he testified against them. His tires were slashed. His neighbors received anonymous flyers accusing him of being a sex offender. Harbit filed dozens of frivolous lawsuits and ethics complaints that made outlandish allegations against Tinnian. Even nastier claims showed up anonymously online that Tinnian, who works as a contract public defender, says destroyed his reputation.

In 2014, Tinnian was charged with misdemeanor disorderly conduct after a physical altercation with Coralville resident Alan Swack while walking his dog. He represented himself at trial, where jurors found him guilty. Harbit followed the proceedings, writing a rambling note to the judge against Tinnian.

Jurors received letters claiming to be from Tinnian asking that they overturn their verdict. After juror Joyce Meyer complained to court officials about the letter, someone spray-painted the words “JUSTICE” and “GUILTY” on her garage and left a type-written note threatening to kill her. Swack and another witness had their tires slashed, found obscenities spray-painted on their homes and garages and received threatening letters.

Tinnian told Coralville police that he had no involvement and suggested Harbit as a suspect, alleging he’d faced very similar harassment in the past.

Police obtained records showing Tinnian’s cellphone was in Kalona when Meyer’s home was vandalized 25 miles away. Nonetheless, prosecutors obtained search and arrest warrants charging Tinnian with witness tampering. Tinnian was jailed until he could post bond, then released under strict supervision.

Jurors acquitted Tinnian last year after he argued Harbit was responsible. After the acquittal, Judge Kirk Daily ruled that investigators had included “false and reckless information” in Tinnian’s search warrant application, saying they lacked probable cause.

“It appears that the state was so convinced that Tinnian, had, in fact, committed these acts that they bypassed investigating whether they had actual evidence,” Daily wrote.



Judge moves pipeline protest hearing

A federal judge has postponed a hearing on whether a preliminary injunction should be issued to prevent protesters in North Dakota from interfering with construction of an oil pipeline.

U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland moved the hearing scheduled on Thursday to Sept. 8. The judge also extended a restraining order against the protesters until the hearing.

The judge says in his order filed Monday that the two sides are “strongly encouraged to meet and confer in good faith” to try and resolve the dispute out of court.

More than two dozen protesters have been arrested in the last month for interfering with the construction of the $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline meant to carry North Dakota crude to Illinois.

Developers have agreed to halt construction until court matters are resolved.

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