Jamarion’s parents say they stopped spankings

The second day of Jamarion Lawhorn's murder trial. (Sept. 2, 2015)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — As 13-year-old Jamarion Lawhorn sat in the courtroom, charged with a brutal murder on a playground, his mom and stepdad took the witness stand.

Both have histories of abusing him.

Anita Lawhorn, who is awaiting trial for abuse, and stepfather, Bernard Harrold, recently convicted of abusing Jamarion, were called by the defense to help show their son should be found not guilty by reason of insanity.

It’s not clear they helped.

The stepdad admitted to spanking him with a belt when he misbehaved and hitting him in the chest with the back of his hand, but he mentioned nothing about hitting him with an extension cord.

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

Jamarion has said Harrold beat him with a cord, leaving marks on the back of his legs, and that he treated him “like a slave.”

Anita Lawhorn also acknowledged spanking him with a belt since he was young.

“I never left marks on my kids,” Lawhorn said.

Both said they stopped spanking him since a CPS investigation that followed allegations of physical abuse in 2013. Investigators had found marks on Jamarion’s legs — evidence of repeated abuse.

“I left the marks,” Harrold admitted. “I apologized to him and I never used corporal punishment again.”

“I would ask him if he wanted a whupping, but I never did it,” Lawhorn said. “I used it like a last resort to get his attention, but I never did it again (after 2013).”

Michael Connor Verkerke.
(Connor Verkerke.)

Jamarion was 12 when he fatally stabbed 9-year-old Connor Verkerke on a Kentwood playground in August 2014. That he killed Connor is not in question. What a jury will have to decide is whether he was legally sane at the time.

Forensic pathologist Dr. David Start, who performed the autopsy, said Connor was stabbed five times in the back and once in the arm. Two of the wounds penetrated a lung, leading to his death. One was forceful enough to go through a rib.

Under cross-examination, Lawhorn said her son seemed happy last summer after returning from New York, where he lived with his father for about a year, to live with her.  She seemed to become angry with prosecutors when asked whether Jamarion seemed happy the day of the stabbing.

“I can’t tell you what’s in my son’s mind,” she said.

She also testified that on the day of the stabbing, Jamarion got into trouble for being on the computer and that his stepfather, Harrold, said he would “deal with” Jamarion when he got home. But Harrold said he only threatened to punish him, maybe make him rake the yard, not hit him.

The lead Kentwood police detective in the case described the home where Jamarion lived with his mom, stepdad and three siblings as “deplorable.” Police found  beer cans all over, flies as well as mouse droppings, electrical problems and drywall falling from the bathroom. They found a straw with cocaine residue.

The detective also found other knives in Jamarion’s bedroom during a search after the stabbing.

CPS worker Paula Leonard, who started investigating after the stabbing, said she found mold in the Lawhorn home, rotted food, filth, backed up sinks and no edible food in the refrigerator. There were dirty clothes and debris on the floor of Jamarion’s bedroom and no sheets on his bed. His mattress was covered with bugs.

Dr. Debra Simms, a pediatric child abuse expert who interviewed and examined Jamarion after the stabbing, said he told her: “I got a problem with anger.”

She went on to describe how he had started fires in his home and got in trouble for taking a fake knife into school. But she said she wasn’t aware of reports that he had tortured small animals.

Jamarion told her that his stepdad beat him with an extension cord for not cleaning and not filling the ice trays. Reports from Child Protective Services show Jamarion had been beaten by his mom with belt, his stepdad with a cord and his grandmother with a sandal.

But, Simms said under cross-examination by the prosecutor: “I’ve never had an abused child that has gone out and killed someone.”

At the Kent County Juvenile Detention Center, after his arrest, Jamarion talked of dying and wondered “who would give him the shot to end his life,” said Sarah Benjamin, a social worker at the center. He was sent to a psychiatric hospital for three days.

Benjamin said in the months after he returned to detention, Jamarion tried to kill himself — wrapping sweatshirts around his neck several times and once putting his head in the toilet. But in the last six months, Jamarion has stopped trying to kill himself, she said.

Jamarion is the youngest person ever charged with murder in Kent County. He is being tried as an adult in juvenile court. The trial is expected to last at least through Thursday.

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