The brutal beating of Josie Lou Ratley on the campus of Deerfield Beach Middle School was not the act of an insane person, but the calculated crime of an angry young man intent on murder, a Broward jury ruled on Monday.
It took jurors four hours to deliberate a guilty verdict and reject the insanity defense of Wayne Treacy, the former Deerfield Beach High School student charged with attempted first-degree murder with a weapon. In March 2010, Treacy threw Ratley to the pavement, then repeatedly slammed her head against the ground and kicked her in the head with steel-toed boots because she sent him a taunting text message about his dead brother.
Treacy, 17, sat expressionless as the court clerk read aloud the jury’s verdict in a Broward Circuit Court room. He faces a maximum sentence of 50 years in prison, and a minimum of 15 years.
After the verdict, Ratley’s family issued a statement through an attorney expressing gratitude to jurors and prosecutors.
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“We want to thank the jury for seeing the truth and doing justice,’’ the statement read. “It is not a day to rejoice, however. This is a tragedy for all involved. Thank you to the jury for having the courage to make the right decision. It is one more step on the road to moving on with our lives as best we can.’’
For Treacy, life will continue without the intense psychiatric treatment that he needs but likely will not receive in prison, said Russell Williams, Treacy’s defense attorney.
“You still have a mentally ill child,’’ he said, adding that his client has been under suicide watch in jail. “There is nothing to do for him but throw away the key.’’
Maria Schneider, the assistant state attorney prosecuting the case, said she was satisfied with the jury’s verdict. But she added that, given the youth of Treacy and Ratley, who also is 17, “This is one of those cases where it’s difficult to be joyful.’’
Schneider said she hoped one message will resonate with young people following the trial: “I hope they realize because you’re angry, because you’re upset, because you have issues, it’s never OK to take matters into your own hands.’’
Though Treacy showed no expression when the verdict was read, Williams said his client was “kind of shocked.’’
Williams said he plans to appeal the verdict because his client’s defense was hampered by Broward Circuit Judge David A. Haimes’s ruling that the jury could not watch and hear a two-hour interrogation video of Treacy conducted in the hours following the attack.
Judge Haimes ruled that Treacy’s statements in the video, in which he claims to have blacked out during the attack and that he only meant to scare the girl, were considered hearsay and self-serving. He said the defense could not present Treacy’s statements to the jury without giving prosecutors a chance to cross examine him.
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. Both were 15 at the time of the attack.
The dissociative episode, a psychiatrist testified at trial, was triggered by a text message Ratley had sent Treacy on the day of the attack telling him to “go visit your dead brother,’’ whose suicide Treacy had witnessed in October 2009.
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.
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.
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 other text messages he sent that day telling friends he was going to prison, and leaving his belongings for others showed that he understood the consequences of his actions.
The five-day trial included testimony from about a dozen witnesses who said they saw Treacy savagely beat Ratley at the bus stop of the middle school shortly after classes had ended for the day.
The prosecution had also presented a witness who testified that someone using Treacy’s computer profile had searched Google the night before the attack using the terms “how to commit murder’’ and “how to kill someone.’’
Also testifying were two psychiatrists — one for the prosecution; the other for the defense — who diagnosed Treacy with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression stemming from his having witnessed the suicide of his older brother.
But the psychiatrists differed over the details of exactly when Treacy first experienced a dissociative episode, the severity of the disorder, and perhaps most importantly for Treacy’s fate, whether he was conscious of his actions and their consequences.
Williams, the defense attorney, urged jurors during closing arguments last week to find Treacy not guilty by reason of insanity.
“At the time of the episode he was legally insane,’’ Williams said.
But Schneider argued that Treacy knew what he was doing, and that he was motivated by anger.
“Anger does not equate insanity,’’ she told jurors. “Viciousness is not a mental illness.’’
After Monday’s verdict, Schneider told reporters that Ratley’s family wanted Treacy to serve 30 years in prison for his crime, but that the sentence to be imposed by the judge likely will not be an easy one to determine.
“It’s difficult,’’ she said, “to put a number on anyone’s life.’’
Judge Haimes said he will sentence Treacy within 90 days, after a pre-sentencing investigation. He scheduled a status conference for Aug. 29.