GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A man who shot and killed a 13-year-old who was involved in stealing his car on Thursday apologized to the boy’s family before being sentenced.
“I would like to apologize to the family for all the hurt that I’ve caused,” Justin House said in a Grand Rapids courtroom. “To his parents, I can’t imagine what they’re going through or how they feel but I pray that one day they can forgive me.”
House, 32, of Grand Rapids, was sentenced to between 14 and 40 years in prison for the second-degree murder of Jamarion McCuller, plus two years for a weapons charge. He received credit for 172 days served and will have to pay fines and fees.
“Sir, you have literally destroyed two families: First, the family of the victim in this matter. We don’t kill 13-year-olds that are involved in car thefts,” Kent County Circuit Court Judge Mark Trusock said in announcing the sentence. “The other thing is you’ve destroyed your own family. I agree with everything your counsel and all those letters (from supporters) had to say that I read. I know that you are a good person and you made a bad choice at that moment, and as a result of that, you have to live with the consequences of that.”
“Sir, you’re still going to be a young man when you get out. I hope you can stay out of trouble and turn things around,” the judge added. “Good luck to you.”
House shot and killed Jamarion, a seventh grader, on 29th Street near Broadmoor Avenue in Kentwood on March 12, 2022. Authorities say House’s father’s car had been reported stolen earlier that day. When he found it, the people in it got out and started running away.
“Several (of the people in the car) had guns,” Trusock said. “You chased them. You had a CPL, which is a concealed weapon permit. You were legally carrying a gun and you chased them. You got about a block away, and whatever happened, you ended up firing. You shot a 13-year-old seventh grader in the back and killed him. And there is no excuse or justification for that.”
Jamarion’s older brother called House’s actions “careless” and said he could have made another choice.
“He was running away from you. You had no reason to discharge your firearm but you did anyway, out of anger,” Kendricks said.
He recalled his brother as young, handsome and smart; the “life of the family.”
“He had so much potential and life to live ahead of him, and now it’s gone,” Kendricks said.
He said his family is haunted by its grief and his mother is often unable to eat or sleep.
“We mourn every day and will forever continue to do so. We don’t have a choice. But you did,” Kendricks said.
He told House that he stole his little brother’s future and caused “indescribable” pain. Though his family is changed forever, they’re keeping his memory alive.
“Even though you took him from us and his future, you will never be able to take our memories,” Kendricks said.
House was still at the scene of the shooting when police arrived. He was arrested but released two days later because the prosecutor needed more information. The second-degree murder charge was issued about a month later.
When a warrant went out for his arrest, House turned himself in.
“He did not run,” one of House’s attorneys said. “He did not hide. He found the courage within him to stand up and take the responsibility and accountability for his actions.”
House claimed he shot McCuller in self-defense. But a jury felt differently, convicting him of second-degree murder and felony firearm in March of this year.
“Mr. House understands that none of this would have happened if he hadn’t made the impulsive decision to chase after those people that were inside of the car,” his defense attorney James King said. “Biggest mistake that he’s ever made in his life.”
King said his client did not act with malice and that the death was an “isolated incident” that House regrets.
“Finding out that a 13-year-old boy had been killed completely shocked his conscience,” King said. “And knowing that that happened at his hands is something that he knows he has to live with for the rest of his life.”
He pointed out that his client has no criminal history or history of drug abuse, has his own family and is generous to his family and community. He said his client is not a threat to the public.
“Mercy. Mercy is what we’re asking from this honorable court, although I’m quite sure it is unattainable,” King said. “Forgiveness is what he’s asking from the victim and the victim’s family, and to his family, he tenders an apology for being his position in the first place.”
House’s defense sent 34 letters to the judge, saying he is a good person at heart.
“Give him a sentence that allows him to come home and continue to contribute to the community and his family as he’s done throughout his entire life,” King said.
Trusock said he hoped two good things could come out of the case: First, that teens who are involved in a surge of car thefts in Kent County realize there can be serious consequences for their actions and second, that the people who have CPLs recognize their weapons must be used responsibly.
“Having a CPL does not make you a police officer. Having a CPL does not give you the training or experience that police officers have. And having a CPL does not make you a judge, a jury and an executioner,” Trusock said. “You just cannot shoot an unarmed seventh grader in the back and kill them.”
—News 8’s Byron Tollefson contributed to this report.
*Correction: A previous version of this article misstated House’s first name. We regret the error, which has been fixed.