FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – A 15-year-old girl's survival from an attack in which her head was repeatedly kicked and stomped by another teenager was nothing short of a "miracle" but she likely will face a lifetime of psychological problems, a neurosurgeon testified Tuesday in the trial of her attacker.
Dr. Randell Powell said it took intense round-the-clock care and three brain operations to save the life of Josie Lou Ratley following the assault on her at a middle school bus stop in March 2010. Her brain was bleeding from at least five heavy blows and was swelling so quickly, Powell said, that he was surprised she was still alive the next morning.
"She was barely clinging to life. But she was still alive. Which I thought was amazing," Powell testified. "I think it's a miracle that she's alive, really."
Powell's testimony came in the second day of the attempted first-degree murder trial of 17-year-old Wayne Treacy, who claims innocence by reason of insanity. Treacy's defense is that he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder because of the recent suicide of his brother, making him more prone to rages and incapable of telling right from wrong.
Treacy and Ratley had exchanged a series of insulting and taunting text messages the day of the attack, culminating with one in which Ratley told Treacy to "go visit your dead brother."
If convicted, Treacy faces up to 50 years in prison. If he is acquitted under the insanity claim, he will likely spend years in a state mental institution, legal experts say. Treacy had been in gifted classes in school before the assault.
Ratley, also now 17, was in a coma for two weeks but gradually began improving, Powell testified. She had to learn to walk and talk again but has difficulty remembering things -- and she has no memory of the attack and little memory of her lengthy hospital stay, the doctor added.
"More concerning is that she's having trouble remembering new things. That's probably going to be permanent," Powell said. "I doubt that she's going to be able to complete school. She probably will need somebody to help look after her. She's walking, she's talking, she's eating. But she's probably going to have significant psychological impairments."
Prosecutor Maria Schneider also questioned several other teenagers who were at the Deerfield Beach Middle School bus loop when Ratley was attacked. They all testified that the assault was quick and shocking, and silenced what is normally a noisy crowd of kids just after school let out.
"A boy was stomping his feet on a girl. He had her head, he was banging it into the ground," said Quadiasha Moss, 16. "I was in shock. I never saw anything like this before in my life. It was like I couldn't move."
Prosecutors say there is ample evidence that Treacy carefully planned the attack, including computer searches of how to kill someone without a weapon and calls and texts to friends saying he was going to jail. A Broward Sheriff's Office detective who led the investigation testified Tuesday about a handwritten will discovered on a desk in Treacy's room in which he bequeaths various items -- a set of weights, a video game device, a stereo -- to friends and girlfriends.
Although it was not signed or dated, Det. Shane Schroeder testified that it appeared to have been placed deliberately by Treacy to be discovered.
"I believe he wrote that will, yes," Schroeder said.
A sheriff's deputy who arrested Treacy said she had seen him outside the school on a bicycle a few minutes before school let out. Deputy Ileiko Toth testified that he seemed to be acting normally and told her he was simply waiting for a friend.
Schneider asked if Treacy seemed "out of it" or having psychological issues after the attack. Toth said no, but that he was crying initially and then calmed down.
The prosecution's case is likely to end Wednesday morning. Then the defense will put on its mental health experts, who form the crux of Treacy's case.