FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — A teenager convicted of savagely kicking and stomping a 15-year-old girl in the head after the two got into an insulting and vulgar text message exchange was sentenced Monday to 20 years in prison despite evidence he suffers from severe mental illness.
Circuit Judge David Haimes imposed the sentence, rejecting Wayne Treacy's request for a prison term of less than eight years because of the post-traumatic stress, depression and suicidal thoughts he has had after his older brother's suicide. Treacy, 18, had faced a maximum of 50 years behind bars for the 2010 attack on Josie Lou Ratley, who has permanent brain injuries.
"It's a very sad situation. I know everybody wishes they could turn back time," Haimes said.
Ratley's mother, Hilda Gotay, said in a letter read to the court that Treacy "inflicted a life sentence on Josie Ratley. When he gets out of jail, she will still suffer from the brain injury he inflicted on her," Gotay said in the letter, read by family attorney Sean Dominick.
Treacy did not speak at the hearing and showed no reaction when the sentence was imposed. Trial testimony showed he attacked Ratley outside Deerfield Beach Middle School after the two exchanged an escalating series of angry text messages, including one from Ratley making reference to the recent suicide of Treacy's older brother. Treacy was wearing steel-toed boots that had belonged to his brother when he assaulted Ratley — boots the jury found amounted to a deadly weapon.
A statement read on behalf of Treacy's family said that he carries a "heavy burden of remorse" for his actions but also noted that he had been an honors student with no previous record of crime or violence. He once dreamed of becoming a cardiologist, they said.
"We have nothing but sympathy for Josie and will never stop praying for her," the statement said. "He is so genuinely sorry and in genuine need of help."
Treacy is on suicide watch at the Broward County Jail, where he is alone in a cell for 23 hours a day, his attorney Russell Williams said. Treacy will get credit for the nearly three years he has spent in jail and could also get additional time reductions for good behavior. After his release, he will serve 10 years on probation.
Prosecutors did not dispute that Treacy had mental health issues, but said he knew right from wrong and the consequences of his actions by sending text messages to other friends before the attack saying he would likely to go prison.
A defense expert, Dr. Alexander Neumeister of New York University, said Treacy is "clearly suicidal" and has essentially had no treatment for PTSD since he has been jailed. Neumeister said Treacy could recover with intensive treatment and that he is unlikely to commit similar acts of violence in the future.
"He has high chances of recovery," Neumeister said.
Under a recommendation by Assistant State Attorney Maria Schneider, Haimes also said he will ask prison officials to allow Treacy to serve the first years of his sentence in the juvenile and youthful offender systems until he turns 25, giving him access to better mental health options.
Earlier Monday, 16-year-old Kayla Manson avoided prison by pleading no contest to a reduced felony battery charge for her role in the attack on Ratley. It was Manson who pointed Ratley out to Treacy just before the attack; the two had never met before that but Ratley had allowed Manson to use her cell phone to contact Treacy.
Manson must perform 250 hours of community service, write a letter of apology to Ratley and undergo psychiatric evaluation. She will be on probation until at least age 19, Schneider said.
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