GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — In a Kent County courtroom on Wednesday, a judge heard from two boys: one who watched his big brother die, and the 13-year-old boy who killed him.
Both Kameron Verkerke, now 8, and Jamarion Lawhorn, Kent County’s youngest convicted killer, read from written statements, like kids in a classroom.
Jamarion then was ordered by Kent County Family Court Judge Paul Denenfeld to a blended sentence for the August 2014 stabbing death of 9-year-old Connor Verkerke.
Jamarion, 12 at the time of the killing, will first go to the Muskegon River Youth Home, a locked-down juvenile facility, then could face the possibility of decades in adult prison.
“I know what I did was wrong. … I made a terrible mistake,” Jamarion said.
“If I could go back, I would stop myself and not realize the nightmare that you and I have to live through,” Jamarion read in a statement written for Connor’s parents. “I don’t show any emotion, because if I do, I would not stop crying.”
Connor’s little brother, Kameron, who witnessed the stabbing on a Kentwood playground, addressed the court before Jamarion. He told the judge about waking up in the morning without his brother.
“I miss Connor…how he was funny,” he said. “He is the funniest kid I ever. I loved how he would spend time with me.”
He hesitated, then asked for help from his mom, who stood behind him at the courtroom podium.
“What does that say?” he asked, pointing to his statement, then continued to read. “Connor was my first best friend, and … I will miss him forever.”
As Kameron spoke, the young killer who took his brother forever mostly stared forward. Jamarion’s mom, Anita Lawhorn, who was convicted of abusing Jamarion, was in shackles in the courtroom. She wiped away tears.
Then Jamarion got his turn.
“I know what I did was wrong. I just do not understand why I did it,” Jamarion said. “I made a terrible mistake. I just want you to know that I’m sorry for all the pain you have been going through.”
His attorney, Charles Boekeloo, argued for a juvenile sentence only, meaning Jamarion would have been set free at age 21. He has blamed the killing on years of abuse Jamarion suffered.
“I was afraid of my stepfather,” Jamarion said in his statement, referring to Bernard Harrold, who admitted to abusing him. “I wanted to die because I thought there was no way out.”
“Every day I relive the horror… of holding my dying son in my arms,” Connor’s father said.
Before Jamarion was sentenced, he also heard from Connor’s parents.
“I firmly believe in the saying that grieving the loss of a child is a process and it begins on the day that your child passes and it ends the day their parent joins them,” Connor’s mom, Danielle Verkerke, told the judge.
“There are no words to explain holding my dying son in my arms,” Connor’s dad, Jared Verkerke, said. “No way to account for the trauma of his brother watching him die. These are the last living memories I have of my son.”
Also during the sentencing, Jamarion’s court-appointed Guardian ad Litem blamed both Jamarion’s parents, who abused and neglected him, and Michigan Children’s Protective Services, who ignored his pleas for help.
“I read about countless Child Protective Services referrals where nothing was done,” Guardian ad Litem Judith Raskiewicz said. “The government’s answer was not to open a case and remove Jamarion, but to send him to New York where he was further abused by his father and his grandmother,” she said.
Jamarion is headed to a locked-down juvenile facility in Evart. He could face prison time as an adult or be set free.
Connor’s parents agreed with the sentence.
“It doesn’t matter how long he’s locked up, it doesn’t matter. Connor’s not coming back,” his mom said. “I’m happy with the verdict he received and aside from that it’s up to him as to how his future’s going to go, and I’m OK with that.”