GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) -- A Kent County jury took less than five hours to find 13-year-old Jamarion Lawhorn guilty of first-degree murder, making him the youngest person ever convicted of murder in Kent County.
Moments later, in a hallway outside the courtroom, the grandmother of victim Connor Verkerke, who was only 9 when he was stabbed on a Kentwood playground, embraced Jamarion's mom and wept.
"We'll try to make sure he gets some help, and make sure he's taken care of," Toni Nunemaker told Anita Lawhorn.
As the verdict was read, Connor's mom, Dani Verkerke, leaned on a friend and wept.
Jamarion, who was 12 at the time of the murder, showed no emotion.
The defense had pushed for a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity, but jurors didn't even accept that Jamarion was mentally ill.
"We were glad to see that was left completely out of it, too, and I'm glad that this is over with, finally done and I feel like at least he has to now pay for what he did," Connor's dad, Jared Verkerke, told 24 Hour News 8. "Prison is the answer for right now."
No sentencing date has been set, but prosecutors say Jamarion will be held in a juvenile program until he's an adult. Then a judge would decide either to set him free or sentence him to an adult prison.
"For us, this was about Connor, but it was also about his brothers, too," Dani Verkerke said. "It was for Kameron, who was at the park, that has to struggle with
this every day of his life now."
The defense had argued that a lifetime of abuse at the hands of his mom and stepdad pushed Jamarion to kill. Experts testified that Jamarion said he did it so he would get arrested and sentenced to death.
"The jury's spoken," defense attorney Charles Boekeloo said. "I'm not going to sit here and attack the verdict. It's our system."
Assistant Prosecutor Kevin Bramble had argued that Jamarion was cold and calculated when he stabbed Connor.
"I never really conceded that he was mentally ill, but I didn't want to minimize what he had gone through up until this point in his life," Bramble said.
Jamarion's mom sat quietly behind her son as the verdict was read.
"I pray for them," Anita Lawhorn later said of the Verkerkes. "I feel sorry for what happened every day. They have to live with it. My son may not be able to come home but, you know, I can see him. They can't see their son."
"I understand that's hard for them, and I'm so sorry for what happened, so I just ask that God comfort them and give them peace," she continued.
Anita Lawhorn, who is awaiting trial for allegedly abusing Jamarion, said she's heard those who suggest she and his stepfather, Bernard Harrold, are also responsible for what Jamarion did. Harrold was recently convicted of abusing Jamarion.
"At the end of the day, most people who have an opinion don't know me," Anita Lawhorn said. "At the end of the day, nobody's ever talked to me. All they know is what they see in the news, all they know is what's written down in reports. There's nothing I can do to change the way people feel. All I can do is keep strong for my family."
She said she will support her son, no matter what.
"I love him and I'm going to be here for him," she said. "He needs to know that I love him always. I've never stopped loving him, I've never been mad at him. I'm just here to support him as much as I can."
Jamarion was tried as an adult in Kent County Family Court. After jury selection on Monday, his trial lasted three days. On the first day, Tuesday, jurors heard Jamarion's 911 call and testimony from witnesses including Connor's little brother Kameron, Connor's parents and first responders.
Wednesday, as the defense called witnesses, Jamarion's parents took the stand. Other witnesses also testified to the filthy conditions in the home where Jamarion lived with his parents and three siblings. Experts who spoke with Jamarion following his arrest said he admitted to having an anger problem, that he talked about dying and that he attempted suicide multiple times while in juvenile detention.
Thursday, mental health experts for the prosecution and defense testified. They agreed that Jamarion was mentally ill at the time of the stabbing, but disagreed about whether he was legally insane. Attorneys then gave closing statements.