"It wasn't that bad," Wayne Treacy told a detective of the text message that led him to attack Josie Lou Ratley. (Courtesy: Broward Sheriff's Office via Sun Sentinel)
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DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. - Wayne Treacy was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder when he lashed out at Josie Lou Ratley in an assault that almost claimed the young girl's life, a court-appointed psychologist said Monday.
Psychologist Michael Brannon described Treacy, 15, as very bright but deeply troubled, and remorseful about what he admits he did to Ratley, a Deerfield Beach Middle School student, on March 17.
"He can't talk about it without sobbing," Brannon said Monday afternoon.
He said Treacy's disorder stemmed from the suicide of his older brother in October. Michael Bell, 30, hanged himself from a tree outside a Pompano Beach church, and Treacy arrived on the scene just before responders cut him down.
"This is the brother who practically raised him," Brannon said. "Had he not actually seen him hanging there, it's possible the PTSD would not have come into play."
Treacy's lawyer, Russell Williams, said Monday that the defense is leaning toward an argument that his client was temporarily insane at the time of the attack.
"It does not seem at this point that he fully knew the wrongness of what he was doing," Williams said.
Assistant State Attorney Maria Schneider was out of town Monday and unavailable for comment.
Brannon acknowledged an insanity defense could be a tough sell to a jury, partly because he feels Treacy realized the consequences of his actions. Treacy's disorder went undiagnosed, Brannon said, because he fought so hard to hide it from his family. Subtle signs, such as failing grades, were not seen in light of post-traumatic stress, Brannon said.
Treacy, charged with first-degree attempted murder, is accused of attacking Ratley, 15, at a Deerfield Beach Middle School campus bus stop, knocking her to the ground and stomping on her head repeatedly with his brother's steel-toe boots.
The assault came after a contentious text-message exchange several hours earlier on March 17 in which Treacy believed that Ratley called him a rapist for his friendship with 13-year-old Kayla Manson.
The message from Ratley's phone that Treacy said sent him into a uncontrollable rage was: "N just go visit ur dead brother."
The image of his brother hanging from a tree is what replayed in Treacy's mind as he bicycled three miles to Ratley's school and waited to find her, said Williams.
According to court documents and prosecutors, Treacy sent messages to Ratley and several of his friends, threatening not only to kill Ratley but describing how he planned to do it. One message read: "snap her neck and stomp her skull."
Williams described those messages as "flares," cries for help that were not taken literally by Treacy's friends or even by Ratley herself, who appeared to brush off his threats, according to the messages from her phone.
Brannon said the threats started as a form of venting, and Treacy didn't intend to launch a physical assault until he was in Ratley's presence. "He honestly thought he was going to yell at her and that maybe she would yell back," Brannon said.
But when the attack took place, according to witness accounts, Treacy didn't utter a word.
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