BROWARD COURTS

Jury in school head-stomping trial to deliberate Monday

 

Wayne Treacy, the Pompano Beach teenager who brutally beat and nearly killed Josie Lou Ratley in March 2010, could face 50 years in prison if convicted of the attempted first-degree murder charge he faces.

dchang@MiamiHerald.com

Wayne Treacy is mentally ill, and he was deeply traumatized by witnessing the suicide of his older brother, a state prosecutor conceded Friday in closing arguments of the Pompano Beach teenager’s attempted first-degree murder trial in Broward Circuit Court.

But Maria Schneider, the assistant state attorney prosecuting the case, urged the jury to remember the victim, Josie Lou Ratley, who was 15-years-old when Treacy threw her to the pavement, and repeatedly slammed her head into the ground and kicked her in the head while wearing steel-toed boots.

“What do you think steel-toed boots do to a brain?’’ Schneider asked the jury. “If experiencing trauma can make a difference forever, what do you think being kicked, stomped, having your head bashed into the ground repeatedly does to your life?’’

Treacy, 17, winced as Schneider described his brutal attack on Ratley at the campus of Deerfield Beach Middle School in March 2010. He is presenting an insanity defense, and faces a maximum sentence of 50 years in prison if convicted.

Earlier in the day, Treacy declined to testify in his own defense. But Russell Williams, Treacy’s defense attorney, urged jurors to find his client not guilty by reason of insanity, reminding them of the testimony of medical experts who diagnosed Treacy with severe post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD, and depression.

Those medical experts evaluated Treacy, and also deemed him to be “generally a good kid,’’ Williams said, “with very high moral standards, not impulsive as a personality trait, empathetic, completely remorseful.

“Why would somebody like that brutally beat somebody he doesn’t even know,’’ Williams asked the jury. “There has to be a reason. What is that reason? You’re going to have to figure that out.’’

Before witnessing the suicide of his older brother, Michael Bell, who hung himself from a tree with an electrical cord in October 2009, Treacy had been an exemplary student with no history of violence or other trouble, Williams said.

The suicide deeply scarred Treacy, medical experts testified, and he likely experienced a trance-like “dissociative episode’’ triggered by a taunting text message from Ratley telling him to “go visit your dead brother’’ on the day of the attack.

The two teens had never met, but that morning Treacy received a text message from a girlfriend who had borrowed Ratley’s phone to contact him. Ratley disapproved of the relationship, though, and told Treacy so when she got her cell phone back.

The text message exchange quickly became abusive, with both teens insulting each other.

Schneider, the prosecutor, presented the jury with a poster-sized spreadsheet of Treacy’s text message exchange with Ratley and others in the hours leading up to and following the crime.

Before Ratley ever mentioned Treacy’s dead brother, Schneider pointed out, he had threatened to kill or harm the girl at least three times.

Then about 12 minutes into their text exchange, Treacy insulted Ratley’s father. Ratley then replied that her father was dead.

“Like I give a s---,’’ Treacy replied.

Shortly afterward, Ratley told Treacy to go visit his dead brother.

“I do not excuse that remark,’’ Schneider told the jury. “It was never right. ... It’s still not enough to justify a vicious attack.’’

After receiving the message, Treacy replied with a threat to “strangle the life” out of Ratley, and he also broadcast his intention to commit murder in numerous text messages to friends.

Schneider told the jury those messages showed Treacy’s predisposition to commit murder — and that his other text messages telling friends he was going to prison, and leaving his belongings for others showed that he understood the consequences of his actions.

“This isn’t someone who has lost their mind and doesn’t know what they’re doing and walks out and attacks the first person they come across,’’ she said.

Instead, Treacy planned the attack by donning black gloves and steel-toed boots, then riding his bicycle to the middle school.

Treacy’s attack was stopped by a school teacher who testified that he tackled the boy the ground.

Ratley, 17, suffered permanent brain damage, and will have difficulty creating any new memories for the rest of her life, according to a doctor’s testimony.

Calling the attack “beyond awful,’’ Williams sought to cast Ratley as the aggressor who unwittingly triggered the attack with her text message.

“The problem is she did not know what she was doing that day,’’ Williams told jurors. “She did not know that the person she was picking on was a person who was suffering from severe chronic post-traumatic stress disorder because he saw his brother hanging from a tree when he was 15-years-old. ... They were not on equal grounds, Josie Ratley and Wayne Treacy. Wayne Treacy had a mental disorder at the time, and she did not.’’

Jurors will begin deliberations Monday.

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