A Florida teenager should not be held responsible for viciously kicking and stomping a girl nearly to death in 2010 because he suffered from mental illness triggered by a brother's suicide a few months earlier, a defense attorney said Monday in a trial's opening statement.
Attorney Russell Williams asked jurors to find 17-year-old Wayne Treacy innocent of attempted murder by reason of insanity in the attack on Josie Lou Ratley, who suffered severe injuries and has permanent brain damage. Williams said Treacy was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder following his brother's death five months earlier that ultimately made him unable to tell right from wrong the day of the attack.
Treacy became enraged when Ratley sent him a taunting text message about his brother, one of several rude and insulting messages the two exchanged before he attacked her on March 17, 2010, in the bus loop outside Deerfield Beach Middle School, Williams said.
"This is where, like an explosion goes off inside Wayne," Williams said.
Treacy was present when his brother's body was discovered in October 2009 outside a local church, where he had hung himself from a tree. A gifted student before that, court records show that Treacy's grades began to slip in the ensuing months. Williams said he had other symptoms of PTSD, including nightmares, flashbacks and frequent physical ailments such as stomach pains.
"He was a nice kid. But after his brother died, things changed," Williams said, adding that medical experts will testify that "everything went blank" when Treacy attacked Ratley, mentally disconnected from his own actions. "Wayne did not know what was going on."
Assistant State Attorney Maria Schneider, however, urged jurors to convict Treacy, noting that he carefully planned it for hours before school let out that day. He put on his brother's steel-toed boots to inflict maximum damage and sent texts beforehand to several friends that he would be going to jail because he planned to kill someone.
"She never had a chance to defend herself," Schneider said.
Treacy began crying in court when Schneider described how witnesses said he kicked Ratley in the head "like a soccer ball."
"She has brain damage that will affect her the rest of her life," the prosecutor said.
Treacy and Ratley had never met before the attack. Ratley allowed another girl, Kayla Manson, to use her phone to text with Treacy. Their heated exchange began when Ratley told Treacy in a text that Manson didn't want to communicate with him and accused Treacy of being a "rapist" because Manson was only 13 at the time. Cell phone records show that Treacy threatened to kill Ratley before she told him to "go visit your dead brother."
"Why are you trying to get yourself killed? I will find you. I will mess you up, you will regret crossing me," says one of Treacy's texts.
Traci Heicklen, who spoke to Treacy by phone before the attack, said he seemed "really angry" and made clear he planned to physically assault a girl, though he didn't say how.
"He just said he was going to hurt her," Heicklen testified.
Treacy rode his bicycle to Ratley's school and got Manson to point her out in the crowded bus stop. The attack was witnessed by at least a dozen students., many of whom are being called as witnesses.
Treacy, who has been jailed since the attack, faces up to 50 years in prison if convicted of first-degree attempted murder. Prosecutors expect the trial to last about a week.
Manson is charged as a juvenile with being an accessory to attempted murder and is scheduled to go on trial in August.