Issues of social immaturity and isolation, combined with romantic images from vampire novels, allegedly led a then-16-year-old boy to attempt suicide with a classmate, doctors testified Monday.
And, doctors concluded, the juvenile court system should be the venue to deal with the teen, who is facing an attempted murder charge in adult court for the alleged suicide pact.
“This is not a conventional crime,” said Dr. James Garbarino, a Loyola University professor who has written nearly two dozen books about child development, trauma and youth violence. Garbarino met with the teen in February, weeks before his 17th birthday.
“This is a mental health crisis that almost coincidentally involved criminal behavior,” Garbarino said. “Two troubled kids formed a suicide pact and were intent on implementing the plan, which was not directed at attacking people outside that little delusional system.”
The boy was charged in December after reportedly telling police he and a 16-year-old girl made a mutual suicide pact. The boy led his father to the Hooker Lake boat launch, where the father found the girl bleeding Nov. 17 and called police.
“She said all I had to do was guide her hand,” the boy said, allegedly adding that he “took the knife and cut across her wrist. I then took the knife and cut my left wrist.” Both teens survived.
Under Wisconsin law, anyone over age 10 accused of a homicide-related offense can be charged automatically as an adult. But, as part of the reverse waiver process, the boy’s attorneys have the right to ask the court to consider hearing the case in juvenile court.
Juvenile court recommended
As part of a reverse waiver hearing that will continue in July, Garbarino testified Thursday that prosecuting the boy in adult court would not likely deter others and would not be in the boy’s best interests.
“This seems like such a, to use the term, no-brainer,” said Garbarino, who advocated for prosecuting the case in juvenile court. “It would be a travesty to do anything else.”
Dr. Jenna Saul, a child and adolescent psychiatrist from Wisconsin Rapids, echoed Garbarino’s conclusions. She also met with the boy in February.
In their testimony for the defense, both doctors described the boy as socially naive, young for his age and drawn in by the opportunity to love and be loved.
Garbarino talked about the boy’s “utter infatuation” with the girl, as well as how taken the boy was with romantic vampire literature.
Saul said the boy spent his life trying to please others, even at the expense of disregarding himself, particularly after the girl said she could no longer bear the pain of living.
“He’s willing to do anything for other people,” Saul said. “So, he’s particularly vulnerable to being willing to be this self-sacrificing. … He wanted to help. He wanted to, in some way, take away the hurt for her. She came up with a solution: I need to die,” Saul said. “And he did not want her to have to die alone.”
Did not seek help
His pattern of not seeking help — from dealing with feelings about his parents’ separation to not asking for help after his special education services were withdrawn and his grades declined — also played a role.
Saul came to that conclusion after she asked the boy what he might have done differently, if he faced this situation again.
“His answer was he would have made sure he had met (the girl) when it was years before. … So, they could have been together, and she wouldn’t have had to suffer,” Saul said.
“It was astounding. He wasn’t asking for help. That wasn’t part of his repertoire, even after going through this.”
That indicated a need for mental health treatment, not incarceration, the doctors said.
The teen is out of jail on bond, under supervision from his parents.