13-year-old Michigan boy guilty of first-degree murder

Jamarion Lawhorn, 13, and his defense attorneys after a jury found Jamarion guilty of first-degree murder Sept. 4, 2015. (WOOD-TV photo)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A jury has found 13-year-old Jamarion Lawhorn guilty of first-degree murder in the August 2014 stabbing death of 9-year-old Connor Verkerke.

Jurors deliberated for a little more than four hours before reaching their verdict of guilty and not mentally ill, which made Jamarion the youngest person ever convicted of murder in Kent County.

Jamarion was stoic as the verdict was read. Anita Lawhorn, who sat behind her son, also did not show any obvious emotion. Dani Verkerke, Connor’s mother, began to cry and a woman sitting next to her hugged her.

Jamarion was 12 when he stabbed Connor six times at a Kentwood playground on Aug. 4, 2014. Two of those stab wounds punctured Connor’s lung, killing him.

Connor Verkerke.
(Connor Verkerke.)

Jamarion’s apparent motive, experts have testified, was to do something that would get him arrested and sentenced to death.

No one ever disputed that Jamarion killed Connor. The question before jurors was whether he was legally sane at the time.

In closing arguments on Thursday, Kent County prosecutors said Jamarion was sane when he stabbed Connor — a victim chosen at random. They said he knew what he did was wrong, which they claimed was evidenced by his actions before the stabbing and his call to 911 to report it.

The defense said that Jamarion was not legally sane and that he was driven to the act after years of abuse at the hands of his parents.

Jamarion Lawhorn. (Undated courtesy photo)
(An undated courtesy photo of Jamarion Lawhorn.)

Jamarion was tried as an adult in Kent County Family Court. After jury selection on Monday, his trial lasted three days.

On the first day, Tuesday, jurors heard Jamarion’s 911 call and testimony from witnesses including Connor’s little brother Kameron, who saw the stabbing happen, Connor’s parents, who tried to save him as he lay dying on their porch, and first responders.

Wednesday, as the defense called witnesses, Jamarion’s parents took the stand. They admitted to having hit their son in the past, but said they had not done so since he had returned to their home in June 2014 after living with his father for about a year.

Also Wednesday, a detective and CPS worker testified to the filthy conditions found in the home where Jamarion lived with his parents and three siblings. Experts who spoke with Jamarion following his arrest said he admitted to having an anger problem, that he talked about dying and that he attempted suicide multiple times while in juvenile detention.

Before closing arguments on Thursday, mental health experts for the prosecution and defense testified. They agreed that Jamarion was mentally ill at the time of the stabbing, but disagreed about whether he was legally insane.

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