Judge: Jamarion Lawhorn competent to stand trial

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

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) – A judge has found Jamarion Lawhorn, the youngest person ever charged with murder in Kent County, competent to stand trial.

In a 14-page ruling released Wednesday, Kent County Family Court Judge Paul Denefeld explained his reasoning for declaring Jamarion, 13, competent to stand trial for the murder of 9-year-old Connor Verkerke.

>>Inside woodtv.com: The judge’s ruling (pdf)

Prosecutors said Jamarion is competent and had their expert Dr. Susan Tremonti interview him. The defense, who said Jamarion is not competent, had their own expert, Dr. Priya Rao, talk to him.

“What is remarkable about the experts’ factual investigations and findings is the similarity in approach and agreement in their findings of fact,” Denefeld wrote in part.

The judge went on to say there were two noticeable differences: One of those being how much time each expert spent with Jamarion. Tremonti met with him three times for a total of just less than six hours.  Rao met with Jamarion only once for about four hours.

The second difference is that Rao spoke with defense counsel about Jamarion’s ability to assist in his own defense, while Tremonti did not. The court did not consider that a significant factor.

Both sides agree Jamarion has never been reported to show any “evidence of psychosis.” They also agree that Jamarion’s current diagnosis is “major depressive disorder, and that he struggles with mood disorders and insomnia.”

During a Monday competency hearing, Tremonti said Jamarion is competent and based that conclusion on the fact that he understands he would be tried as an adult, that he is charged with homicide and the potential negative legal consequences he faces.  Jamarion also knows the victim’s name was Connor and Connor was 9 years old. Jamarion was also able to describe the court hearings he has been to and understands the roles of a prosecutor, judge and jury.

Rao said Jamarion is incompetent due to his age and immaturity. She said Jamarion would not be able to understand the complications of the legal system and participate in his defense. She also said his knowledge of the court system is simple, and that he doesn’t understand things like trials and the appeals system.

Defense experts also testified Lawhorn has tried to commit suicide several times while in juvenile detention, has flashbacks and cannot sleep.

The judge found three reasons Tremonti’s argument was more persuasive:

  1. Tremonti is board certified in forensic psychology while Rao is not.
  2. Rao’s rate of finding incompetence is very high, nearly twice the rate of Tremonti.
  3. Rao’s conclusions are largely based on speculating whether or not the defendant can stay focused on trial, yet she offered no evidence of this other than her suspicions.

The judge also said that while the defendant may not understand everything about the criminal justice system, that makes him no different than most Americans.

Jamarion admitted to stabbing Connor, who he did not know, to death with a kitchen knife on a playground in Kentwood on Aug. 4, 2014, court documents show. When police arrived at the scene of the stabbing, Jamarion, who was 12 at the time, yelled, “I just stabbed someone, I want to die, I’m tired of life,” according to the documents. He also asked if there would be anyone at the jail who would kill him.

Jamarion’s mother and step-father, Anita Lawhorn and Bernard Harrold, have been charged with child abuse for allegedly beating Jamarion Lawhorn. Their other children have been removed from their care.

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