GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. - The jury that will decide whether a 13-year-old boy is guilty of murdering a 9-year-old on a Kentwood playground began hearing arguments from attorneys and prosecutors Tuesday morning.
Jamarion Lawhorn is on trial, as an adult, for the murder of Connor Verkerke on August 4, 2014. Lawhorn is the youngest person to be tried for murder in Kent County. Click here for the complete timeline of the case.
The focus of this trial is arguing whether Jamarion Lawhorn is legally insane, rather than the facts of the murder. Before opening statements, Kent County Family Court Judge Paul Denenfield explained to the jury that mental illness and legal insanity are different. Judge Denenfield said in order for a person to be legally insane, "a person must be mentally ill or intellectually disabled, as a result lack capacity to understand nature of what happened."
Connor Verkerke's parents and his now-9-year-old brother Kameron took the stand Tuesday, giving heart-wrenching testimony about his death. Kameron was seven at the time of his brother's death and was playing with Connor when he was stabbed.
To start the trial, the prosecution announced immunity for Lawhorn's mother, Anita. She has been convicted of child abuse and welfare fraud and CPS had called Jamarion's living conditions "deplorable." The judge granted the immunity for the sake of a fair trial, allowing the jury to hear everything that went on around Jamarion, if the defense calls her to testify.
Prosecutor Kevin Bramble began opening statements by arguing Jamarion is not legally insane, rather a calculated murderer.
“What governs here, what tells us what the defendant was thinking of his conduct on that day, and his actions clearly, clearly indicated that he understood the wrongfulness of his conduct, I mean he knew to call the police because he knew it was wrong," explained Bramble.
Jamarion's defense attorney Charles Boekeloo then opened by saying, "Jamarion didn’t really appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct... he was so overwhelmed by what he had been experiencing his whole life." And that, "every time [Lawhorn] went to an adult they failed him… he even tried to kill himself and failed at that."
The first witness on the stand was Andrea DeVries, a neighbor who lived by the playground. The second witness was Kameron Verkerke, Connor's little brother. Kameron also stated that on Aug. 4, 2014, he, his brother Connor, and their friend James were playing in their yard when Jamarion walked up asking if he could play.
Kameron recounted his last moments with his older brother.
“He was saying ‘I love you’ and something else but I don’t know what it was," said Kameron.
Connor and Kameron's father Jared Verkerke testified that Connor even called Jamarion his "new friend," asking if they could go play at the mobile home park. About 10 minutes into playing, Kameron said Jamarion "pulled a knife out of the sand and started cleaning it."
Both Connor and Kameron's parents Jared and Danielle Verkerke testified, describing how badly their son was hurt, Danielle through tears.
"Connor was laying there, and there was blood everywhere," she said.
After a lunch break, police played the 911 tapes from the day of the stabbing, including tapes where Jamarion himself told police that he had done it and wanted to die. Jamarion used a neighbor's cell phone to call 911, and first spoke calmly and clearly stating, “I just stabbed someone.. I don't know [who]. I’m fed up with life.”
Then Jamarion turned frantic, and screamed at the dispatcher, repeating that he wanted the officers to hurry up and take him, kill him, and that he wanted to die.
"They gonna make somebody beat me," Jamarion said on the 911 call. "They gonna try to beat me so hurry up and come kill me or take me to jail or something. Exactly like you do in movies. Kill me in the electric chair. I don’t care how I die. You pick the way.”
He went on to say, "I just killed someone. Will you please come pick me up? I want to end my life." Also, "I don't want to be on this earth anymore. Please kill me. Can you please just come and get me now?"
According to the 911 call, it took police at least 7 minutes to get to Connor Verkerke, then about 11 minutes before officers made first contact with Jamarion. Neighbors, including Glen Stacey, who lent Jamarion his cell phone, testified that Jamarion walked to police with his arms out "like he wanted to be handcuffed."
Responding paramedics and rescue crews also testified Tuesday stating all of Jamarion's vital signs, his walk, and his speech were "normal." One paramedic testified that Jamarion told him "he had been planning to kill someone for approximately one year" at that point.
The trial will continue Wednesday, and is expected to run throughout this week.