Legislature to hold hearing on Lawhorn case

Jamarion Lawhorn is charged with murder as an adult in the death of 9-year-old Michael Connor Verkerke.

LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — State Senate and House of Representatives committees are planning a joint hearing to demand answers from the Department of Human Services over its handling of the Jamarion Lawhorn case.

They want to know why Jamarion, 12, wasn’t removed from his home in 2013 — a year before 9-year-old Connor Verkerke was stabbed to death on a Kentwood playground. Police say Jamarion admitted to the Aug. 4, 2014 stabbing and said he did it because he wanted to die and take someone with him.

State Sen. Judy Emmons, who chairs the Senate Familes, Seniors and Human Services Committee, said she spoke with her counterpart in the state House to call for the hearing on Jamarion’s case after Wednesday’s Target 8 investigation.

“It’s a matter that deserves urgency,” Emmons (R-Sheridan) told Target 8. “It’s too important not to.”

Target 8 revealed that DHS Children’s Protective Services workers appear to have violated state law by not taking steps to remove Jamarion from his mom’s custody.

Anita Lawhorn voluntarily gave up two children in New York in 1999 after her 1-year-old daughter suffered four “unexplained” broken bones and her 3-year-old girl had what appeared to be cigarette burns on her chest.

Anita Lawhorn at her son Jamarion's arraignment on Aug. 10, 2014.
(Anita Lawhorn at her son Jamarion’s arraignment.)

In 2013, Michigan CPS substantiated allegations that she and her live-in boyfriend physically abused Jamarion.

Under the Michigan Children’s Protection Act, that should have triggered CPS to file a petition to terminate parental rights. The law says “shall” — it gives CPS no choice.

“That’s a significant word, ‘shall,'” Emmons said. “Somewhere, somehow, it wasn’t followed. That policy, procedure, wasn’t followed.”

Instead, Jamarion and three siblings continued to live with his mom and stepdad in what police described as a “deplorable” home — no bedding, little food, no utilities. And Jamarion was covered with bruises.

After the stabbing, CPS removed Jamarion’s siblings from the family’s home. Jamarion is still being held on adult murder charges. The state has filed a petition to terminate the mother’s parental rights to all four children.

Emmons questions why that didn’t happen long ago.

“If it takes additional legislation, if it takes additional training, if it takes whatever needs to be done within the Department of Human Services, we can’t allow something like this to occur again,” she said.

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