GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Five years after he stabbed a little boy to death, becoming Kent County’s youngest killer, Jamarion Lawhorn continues to struggle with forgiveness.

“I feel like when I was growing up, this was the love I needed, this love I’m getting now,” Lawhorn, now 17, told News 8 after a court hearing on Thursday.

Lawhorn was 12 in 2014 when he randomly stabbed 9-year-old Connor Verkerke on a Kentwood playground with a kitchen knife, believing that responding police would kill him and end what was a miserable childhood. He had been abused by his mom and stepdad.

connor verkerke
A file image of Connor Verkerke, who was stabbed and killed in August 2014 by Jamarion Lawhorn. Connor was 9. Jamarion was 12.

At Lawhorn’s first court hearing five years ago, he wore heavy shackles on his hands and around his ankles. On Thursday, at a hearing in Kent County Circuit Court to update his progress toward rehabilitation and freedom, he wore no shackles. He smiled at times.

His victim’s grandmother, Toni Nunemaker, sat in the courtroom behind him — to support him.

“I had no right to kill Connor,” Lawhorn told News 8. “I killed him out of anger that I was feeling. It’s time for me to make it right, to own up to my mistakes and to just give back to the community for what I took.

“I regret what I did. I can apologize so many times, but it’s not going to bring him back at the end of the day.”

Since the death, Lawhorn has been locked up and getting counseling at the Muskegon River Youth Home near Evart, where he’ll likely be held until he’s at least 19. He’s in the 11th grade now and is planning for college.

“It kind of sounds like a broken record at this point, but that’s a good broken record,” Kent County Circuit Judge Paul Denenfeld said at Thursday’s hearing. “What I mean by that is Jamarion continues to do extremely well.”

He gave Lawhorn permission to take excursions with his victim’s grandmother, who already visits him regularly and even wrote a book about the case.

“It was just my beliefs, my personal beliefs in forgiveness. I live that way,” the grandmother said.

“He wants to go to the YMCA and maybe movies, yeah, wherever he wants,” she said. “Some adventures.”

The judge also approved excursions with former Kent County Juvenile Detention Worker Frank Briones and Paula Creswell, a woman who has written and visited with Lawhorn.

“I just heard the story initially on the news and couldn’t get him out of my mind, and a friend said, ‘You need to stop talking and start doing,'” the woman said. “He’s a great kid. He’s like a son to me.”

“I told him I’d be with him for the long haul and that we were going to get through it,” the former juvenile detention worker said. “I believe in Jamarion.”

Lawhorn told News 8 he hopes to eventually work with other troubled kids.

“I want to help people that’s in the situation like what I was in, to honor them,” he said. “There’s a lot of people out there that need that help. A lot.”

He told the judge that he struggles with forgiveness.

“I never understood how miss Toni (Connor’s grandmother) could forgive me for what I did,” he said. “I just want to prove to the world that I’m not who they thought I was that day.”