Jamarion trial: 2 moms on opposite sides of tragedy

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

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — They are two moms on the opposite sides of tragedy.

Anita Lawhorn’s son, Jamarion, was 12 when he stabbed a 9-year-old boy to death.

Connor Verkerke.
(An undated courtesy photo of Connor Verkerke.)

Dani Verkerke’s son, Connor, was 9 and out playing that day when he was stabbed at a playground and later died on his parents’ porch.

On Tuesday, both expect to be in a Kent County courtroom for the start of the trial of Jamarion Lawhorn, now 13, the youngest ever charged with murder in West Michigan.

The trial is expected to last through Thursday or Friday. Jamarion is being tried as an adult in juvenile court, which means that if convicted, he could go to prison once he becomes an adult.

“That’s my son, no matter what,” Anita Lawhorn told 24 Hour News 8 on Monday at the courthouse before a 14-person jury was selected. “That’s me. I love him. He knows I love him. Whatever support I can give him, that’s what I’m doing.”

Connor’s mom and his dad, Jared Verkerke, said they plan to attend as much of the trial as they are legally allowed. Both have been subpoenaed to testify.

“It’s about showing that Connor was a real person,” Dani Verkerke said. “He’s not just a story. He was a real person that was taken from us. It’s just to be there, to represent Connor.”

“I want the jury to be able to see those that were affected on the other side of the aisle, so that both sides of the story are presented properly,” Connor’s dad, Jared Verkerke, said.

Jamarion stabbed Connor — a boy he did not know — in August 2014 at a Kentwood playground. He said he did it because he wanted to die himself. No one is disputing that.

The question for this trial:  Was he criminally insane?

The stabbing opened a window into Jamarion’s life — a victim of abuse living in squalor, with a stepdad who whipped him with an electrical cord and a mom still awaiting trial for abuse.

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

The case led to changes at Children’s Protective Services, which should have taken steps to remove Jamarion from his home before the stabbing.

Jared Verkerke called the insanity defense a “cop-out.”

“He planned it. He premeditated it,” Verkerke said. “He set it up so that way he could make this happen. Those aren’t the actions of somebody that’s insane. That’s somebody that’s rationally thinking about doing horrible, evil things.”

But even a year later, Connor’s parents don’t know what should happen to Jamarion.

“It’s a constant struggle and this is something we live with every day,” his father said. “What happened goes through our minds every single day. It’s something we wake up to, we go to sleep to, we eat lunch to it. It’s something that continues to play out through our minds.”

Connor’s brother, Kameron, now 9, who witnessed the stabbing and carried his dying brother home, is expected to testify, as is a friend who also was at the playground.

“Honestly, no matter which way it goes, it doesn’t make up for what was taken from us,” Connor’s mom said. “There’s no justice for that.”

As for Anita Lawhorn, despite her own legal troubles, she hopes to be there for every part of the trial. She’s not sure if she will testify.

She said it’s important that Jamarion see her face.

“I’m his mother,” she said. “That’s my child, and I’m important to him. It’s very important that he sees me. It’s very important that he knows he has somebody.”

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