Sitting in a Broward courtroom, waiting to hear how long he would spend in prison, Wayne Treacy was dressed like the teenager he could have been if not for what happened two and a half years ago.
He sported a fresh, short haircut. He wore a khaki button down shirt, dark blue slacks and brown shoes. He could have been going to a first day at work or start of a new school year.
Instead, Treacy was in the courtroom of Broward Circuit Judge David A. Haimes, being sentenced to 20 years in prison followed by 10 years probation for the violent beating of a middle school girl waiting for a bus.
Treacy looked down for a moment, then back at the judge.
It was, in a sense, good news for Treacy. He had faced up to 40 years in prison.
And then Haimes said aloud what so many had thought since the afternoon Treacy put on his steel-toed boots, and savagely kicked Josie Lou Ratley and slammed her head into the concrete.
“It’s a very sad situation,” Haimes said. “Everyone wishes they could go back in time.”
It was March 17, 2010 when Treacy, a freshman at Deerfield Beach High School, got a text message from a girlfriend at Deerfield Beach Middle School who had borrowed Ratley’s phone. Ratley disapproved of the relationship, though, and told Treacy so when she got her cell phone back.
The text messages flew back and forth, quickly becoming abusive, with both teens insulting each other. Ratley sent Treacy a taunting message about his brother, who had committed suicide.
Treacy replied with a threat to “strangle the life” out of Ratley, and he texted friends about his intention to hurt her.
In a fit of rage, he put on his boots and headed over to the middle school. Treacy and Ratley had never met, so his then-girlfriend Kayla Manson pointed her out to him.
Ratley suffered permanent brain damage from the beating, a neurosurgeon testified at trial, and she likely will have trouble forming any new memories for the rest of her life.
And, yet, it could have been so much worse. A teacher pulled Treacy off before he could do more harm. Doctors at Broward Health Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale worked furiously to save Ratley’s life.
If not for them, Ratley would have died — and Haimes would have had little choice but to sentence Treacy to life in prison.
The attack, only a few months after teenager Michael Brewer was set on fire by schoolmates, got attention from across the country as people wondered how a boy, just 15 at the time and with no prior criminal problems, could snap and attack so suddenly and so cruelly.
At trial, Treacy declined to testify in his own defense, but his attorneys said he was in the grip of a hypnotic “dissociative episode” when he attacked Ratley, also 15 at the time.
A jury found Treacy guilty in July of attempted first-degree murder with a weapon.
His then-girlfriend, Manson, was charged in juvenile court. On Monday, as Treacy’s legal team argued his case, Manson accepted a reduced charge of felony battery.
Her sentence includes 250 hours of community service, probation and a letter of apology to Ratley.
Hours after Manson received her punishment, Judge Haimes ran through the reasons he was sentencing Treacy to 20 years, instead of the 40 that Ratley’s family wanted.
Treacy, he said, was 15 years old the day of the crime, had shown signs of mental health problems and was a first-time offender.
With time served and good behavior, Haimes estimated Treacy could be out of prison when he is in his 30s.
“I’m disappointed,” Treacy’s lawyer, Russell Williams, said, adding he hoped his client would get the mental treatment he needed in prison.
Prosecutor Maria Schneider said she believed justice was done, but it wasn’t a perfect ending.
“No number of years is going to bring Josie Ratley back to health,” she said.
Moments after the announcement, Treacy’s stepfather walked outside the courtroom, delivering a profanity-laced rant about who was really to blame.
“Did my kid get a fair trial? No, he didn’t,” Cary Smith said, before walking away.
Inside, the courtroom was still quiet. Family and friends cried as Treacy walked, handcuffed, back to his jail cell.
They called out to him words of encouragement: “We love you” and “stay strong.”
Treacy stood near the door and answered “I love you.”
And then, he disappeared.