More than two years ago, a twelve year old Michigan boy stabbed a nine year old to death. Now, a jury has found him guilty of murder, making him the youngest convicted murderer in the history of the Great Lakes State. It all began with a murder suicide scheme hatched in the mind of a child. On August 4, 2014, then twelve year old Jamarion Lawhorn stepped onto a Kentwood, Michigan playground and stabbed nine year old Connor Verkerke to death.
Lawhorn’s plan was as convoluted as any adult who has ever sought “suicide by cop.” he imagined that once he took another boy’s life, he would be convicted and executed, thus ending a life fraught with emotional suffering.
At least, that is what his defense attorney alleges.
After deliberating for just four hours, the jury made up of seven men and five women returned a verdict of guilty.
During three days of trial, they heard testimony from Connor’s younger brother who witnessed the attack and helped carry him home. He recounted how Connor told him he loved him and that the attack was not his fault.
The jury also heard from Connor’s mother and father, who watched their son die on their front porch awaiting an ambulance.
Prosecutors also played the 911 recording in which the twelve year old assailant demanded that the police arrest him and give him the electric chair.
Jurors also heard the opinions of two certified forensic psychiatrists who differed as to whether or not he understood what he did was wrong and was in control of his actions.
Lawhorn’s defense attorney , Charles Boekeloo argued that the boy had been the subject of ongoing and regular abuse by his parents right up to the day of the attack. He said that Lawhorn had been failed by every adult in his life, including his parents, Child Protective Services, and his school. Boekeloo went on to point out that Jamarion Lawhorn was also under the influence of stolen medications at the time of the attack.
During the closing statements, Assistant Kent County Prosecutor Bramble reminded the jury that in his statement to police, Lawhorn admitted to planning the attack for a year and that he even removed his shirt before stabbing Verkerke to avoid getting blood on it.
Bramble said “He set out to kill someone and he did it. Take the emotion out of it.”
As he closed his defense, Boekeloo argued that the standards being used by the prosecution could hold even a three year old responsible for a capital crime.
As tragic as this case is, it does demonstrate the difficulty our legal system has when dealing with young offenders. Until the mid 1990’s most states could only prosecute minors as juveniles, with different standards and punitive options than adults. During the Clinton Administration many states sought to “get tough” on crime and created new laws that allowed children as young as ten years old to be tried as adults.
How do you feel about treating children as adults in the criminal justice system? Did you follow the Lawhorn case? Please share your thoughts with us here.