What did fifteen-year-old Wayne Treacy mean when he sent text messages to his friends saying he was going to kill Josie Lon Ratley? Did he actually intend to kill her or was he using inflammatory language? After his arrest the Broward County Sheriff Al Lamberti described his violent behavior as the first case of "text rage."
Wayne was a 9th grader at Deerfield Beach High School when he was arrested for the premeditated attempted murder of 15-year-old Josie. Wayne did not have a relationship with Josie; he had never even met her. Apparently, he became enraged when she texted him about his romantic relationship with one of her friends and his brother's recent suicide.
It is alleged that on March 17, 2010, Wayne put on his steel-toed boots and rode his bike to Deerfield Beach Middle School. He found Josie by the school bus stop, banged her head into the concrete five or six times, and then began kicking her in the head. He continued to kick her until a teacher intervened. Josie suffered severe head trauma and was in a medically induced coma for approximately one month.
In my 25 years as a forensic psychologist, I have evaluated hundreds of adolescents charged with violent crimes. Many had been physically or emotionally abused and most exhibited clear signs of maladjustment prior to their arrest. One case that I describe in depth in my book The Measure of Madness: Inside the Disturbed and Disturbing Criminal Mind is that of Anthony, a 15-year-old who beat his grandmother to death. During my evaluation Anthony told me that his father had been murdered when he was only seven years and his mother was a suspected crack cocaine addict. Within a year of his father's death, child protective services removed him from his mother's care due to allegations of physical abuse and neglect. Anthony's school and foster care records indicated that routinely skipped classes, disobeyed rules, was rude to teachers, argued and fought with peers and performed poorly in school.
Wayne is very different from Anthony and most of the adolescents I have evaluated. The newspaper reports I reviewed indicated that Wayne had no prior history of assaultive behavior. He did not exhibit any of the symptoms or traits associated with conduct disorder or antisocial personality. When Matt Lauer interviewed Wayne's mother about his alleged behavior, she said, "That's not Wayne's nature, he's not a bully."
What could have provoked Wayne to act in such an atypical violent manner? It has been reported that Wayne discovered his brother's body hanging from a tree five months before his arrest, which must have caused severe emotional distress. It is unclear whether he was referred for psychiatric assessment or counseling after this horrific trauma.
Could Josie's text messages have unleashed Wayne's underlying intense and unresolved feelings about his brother's death? If so, it is possible that Wayne acted under extreme emotional disturbance.
Extreme emotional disturbance is used as a defense in cases where the defendant is confronted with a trauma or stressor that causes them to lose control and act aggressively. The extreme emotional disturbance defense can be successful if the defendant can prove that his or her violent behavior was influenced by intense emotions and provoked or brought forth by an extreme stressor. If the judge or jury concludes that Wayne acted under extreme emotional disturbance, the offense will be lessened from attempted murder to attempted manslaughter.
Wayne pled not guilty and is being held in the Broward County jail without bail. His attorney has indicated that his client may use a mental state defense. The outcome of Wayne's case will probably hinge on whether the judge or members of the jury are convinced by his text messages that Wayne had a premeditated plan to kill Josie. Sheriff Lamberti told reporters that, after the assault, Wayne sent a text message saying, "Hey, I think I'm going to prison, I think I just killed someone."
I expect that all the text messages will be crucial pieces of evidence at the trial.