A family is grieving and a Michigan community is in shock after a 9-year-old boy was stabbed to death at a playground in his neighborhood, back in 2014.
The shock felt in Kentwood, just outside of Grand Rapids, is as much over the sudden and senseless loss of Michael Conner Verkerke as it is over the circumstances of his death: The person accused of stabbing him was a 12-year-old he had just met at the playground.
The 12-year-old has been charged as an adult and a jury has found him guilty of murder, making him the youngest convicted murderer in the history of the Great Lakes State.
Michael Conner Verkerke, 9, was playing with three other children at the Kentwood, Michigan, playground at about 6 p.m. on Monday when the oldest of them, Jamarion Lawhorn, 12, allegedly pulled a knife and repeatedly stabbed Verkerke in the back, Kentwood police said.
The victim ran to his home at the mobile home park, collapsed on his porch, and was taken by ambulance to a hospital, where he died late Monday evening, police said.
Lawhorn, who lives in a neighborhood near the mobile home park, went to a nearby residence, called police, and turned himself in, Kentwood Police Chief Thomas Hillen said.
Hillen said Lawhorn is charged with “open murder,” meaning prosecutors have not yet determined whether it is first-degree murder or some lesser degree.
Hillen also said there was no known motive and he declined to speculate on what might have led the child to call the police on himself.
More details of this tragic incident from AWM:
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.
Kentwood is a community of about 49,000 residents about 150 miles northwest of Detroit.
Watch the video below for more details: