An angry young man intent on murder, or an emotionally damaged victim of post-traumatic stress disorder brought on by finding the body of his brother, who had committed suicide?
Jurors heard contrasting profiles of Wayne Treacy during opening statements of the Pompano Beach teenager’s attempted first-degree murder trial Monday in Broward Circuit Court in Fort Lauderdale.
Treacy, 17, is presenting an insanity defense. If convicted, he faces a 50-year prison sentence.
He wept quietly as prosecutor Maria Schneider recounted for jurors how in March 2010 he savagely beat and almost killed a student on the campus of Deerfield Beach Middle School because she sent him a taunting text message about his dead brother.
Josie Lou Ratley, who was 15 at the time of the attack, suffered irreparable brain damage after Treacy shoved her to the concrete of the school bus stop, then beat and kicked her head repeatedly until a teacher tackled him, Schneider said.
“Hold him responsible for almost killing Josie Lou Ratley, for changing her life forever because he was angry,” Schneider said.
Ratley’s mother, Hilda Gotay Ratley, also wept as she sat in the front row of the courtroom gallery.
In his opening statement, defense attorney Russell Williams did not dispute that Treacy had carried out the vicious assault on Ratley.
“The question you have to ask yourself,” he told jurors, “is why?”
In the five months leading up to the attack, Williams said, Treacy had deteriorated mentally and socially as he struggled with the trauma of seeing his older brother, Michael Bell, hanging dead from a tree in the parking lot of the New Covenant Church in Pompano Beach.
“Sleepless nights, nightmares, flashbacks,” he said of Treacy’s symptoms.
He urged jurors to find his client not guilty by reason of insanity.
The day of the attack, Ratley and Treacy had exchanged a series of abusive text messages.
The two teens had never met, but Treacy, a 15-year-old freshman at Deerfield Beach High School at the time, had been contacted via Ratley’s cellphone by his girlfriend, Kayla Manson.
Manson, who was 13 at the time, did not have a cellphone but had borrowed Ratley’s to communicate with Treacy.
Ratley disapproved of their relationship, and told Treacy so when she got the phone back from Manson.
The exchange escalated. And when Ratley sent Treacy a text message telling him to go visit his dead brother, the effect was “like an explosion went off inside Wayne,” Williams said.
Treacy, who had stayed home from school that day, dressed in his dead brother’s clothes — a chain necklace, pants and steel-toed boots — and then rode his bicycle to Deerfield Middle School.
When he arrived, Manson pointed out Ratley to him.
He also texted friends about his intention to harm Ratley.
“I would snap her neck, and then stomp her skull — fastest way I could think of,” Treacy texted William Luft, 18, who testified at the trial Monday that the pair had been best friends.
Another of Treacy’s friends, Monica Montero, 16, testified that she called him after he sent her a message before the attack saying that he was going to jail, and that he intended to kill someone.
Montero said she did not recall their conversation. But another girl who also spoke with Treacy that day, Traci Heicklen, testified that she urged him not to do it, and to think of his family.
“He was mad,” Heicklen said.
After the attack, Treacy continued to text friends, telling one ex-girlfriend that he was going to jail for murder, and telling Luft to give a ring to another girlfriend.
But Williams told jurors his client did not recall the attack because he was under the effect of a “dissociative episode,” a symptom of PTSD.
When Treacy heard what he had done, “he started hyperventilating and crying,” Williams said.
The trial resumes at 10 a.m. Tuesday.