(MCT) — FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Florida teenager Wayne Treacy was sentenced Monday to 20 years for trying to murder Josie Lou Ratley by stomping on her head with a pair of steel-toed boots in retaliation for a taunting text message that made light of the recent suicide of his brother.
The sentencing capped a 31/2-hour hearing in which lawyers asked Broward Circuit Judge David Haimes to weigh the horror and brutality of the crime against the demonstrated mental illness and promising academic career of the teenage perpetrator.
Haimes acknowledged the difficulty of the case and painted his decision as a middle ground between the harsh sentence sought by the family of the victim and the leniency requested by the defense. At the request of prosecutor Maria Schneider, Haimes recommended Treacy, now 18, stay in a juvenile facility until age 21, move to a youthful offender facility until age 25, then spend the remainder of his term in a regular prison.
Treacy, who was convicted in July of first-degree attempted murder, faced a maximum of 50 years in prison for his crime, but no one involved in the case asked Haimes for such a tough sentence. Sean Domnick, the attorney representing Ratley and her mother, Hilda Gotay, asked Haimes for a 40-year sentence, calling it light in comparison with the harm he inflicted on the victim.
“There is not enough sentencing in this world for me to bring my daughter back to the girl she used to be,” said Domnick, reading from a letter written by Gotay. Neither Gotay nor Ratley attended the sentencing hearing. Speaking for himself, Domnick said Treacy “inflicted a life sentence on Josie Lou Ratley.”
Both Treacy and Ratley were 15 when, on March 17, 2010, they got into a heated text-message exchange that started when another friend, Kayla Manson, then 13, borrowed Ratley’s phone to send Treacy a message. By the time Treacy responded, Manson had evidently returned the phone to Ratley.
The exchange that followed was rude, on both sides, by any objective measure, featuring profanity, vulgarity and, from Treacy to Ratley, explicit threats of violence.
But it wasn’t until Ratley made a passing and dismissive reference to Treacy’s dead brother that the threats appeared to turn into a plan of action.
Treacy’s brother, Michael Bell, 30, had committed suicide five months earlier, and psychologists later said Treacy, who saw his brother’s body hanging from a tree outside a Pompano Beach church, suffered from untreated post-traumatic stress disorder ever since. His once-stellar grades fell and he began having suicidal thoughts, according to trial testimony.
The text message, according to the defense, sent Treacy into a rage he could not control. Jurors who listened to the evidence appeared to sympathize with Treacy, but still felt he needed to be held accountable for what he did next.
Treacy bicycled three miles from his Pompano Beach home to Deerfield Beach Middle School, where Manson and Ratley were students. He texted and spoke to several friends, making explicit threats to kill the person who sent him the message.
But Treacy had never met Ratley, and when he arrived at the school, he needed Manson to point her out of a crowd at a campus bus stop during dismissal.
When he found her, Treacy threw Ratley to the ground and stomped on her head up to seven times, the steel-toed boots compounding the damage from his kicks.
Ratley suffered irreversible brain damage, but survived because a teacher tackled Treacy to the ground and because doctors at Broward Health Medical Center put Ratley into a medically induced coma to treat her.
Earlier Monday, Manson, now 16, pleaded no contest to a felony charge of aggravated battery. Originally charged as a juvenile principal to first-degree attempted murder, Manson will not face any jail time. She will have to perform 250 hours of community service and will serve an undetermined period of probation.
The plea was part of a deal with prosecutors, who felt Manson needed to be held accountable for her role in the attack but likely did not intend to see serious harm come to Ratley, who at the time was one of her closest friends.
Defense lawyer Russell Williams called two psychologists to testify about Treacy’s need for intensive, specialized treatment that won’t be available to him in prison. A friend of Treacy’s family, Sandy Banker Manon, read a letter from Treacy’s mother again apologizing for the incident and asking for mercy.
“You may have already made up your mind, judge, but I want everybody to know that Wayne is not a violent child,” Manon said, not reading from the letter.
Haimes told Treacy he will still be a relatively young man when he’s released, assuming good behavior in prison and credit for the 21/2 years he’s already spent in custody. Treacy had already done the math.
“32,” he said, calculating the youngest age he’ll be eligible for release.