August 27, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
On August 4th, 12-year-old Jamarion Lawhorn stabbed 9-year-old Connor Verkerke to death on a Michigan playground. He then turned himself into police saying he wanted to die and had seen on television that, if a person kills someone he’ll be put to death in the electric chair. He had been planning his own death in that way for a year. Jamarion had never met Connor before. Here’s one article (WoodTV, 8/25/14).
Astonishingly, the State of Michigan has decided to try the child as an adult. That means that, if he’s convicted of murder, he’ll be confined to a juvenile facility until he’s 21 and then a judge will decide if he should be transferred to a prison housing adults.
Now it develops that Jamarion was himself the long-time victim of child abuse at the hands of his mother and perhaps her boyfriends. And Jamarion isn’t alone. His mother, Anita Lawhorn has a history of violent abuse of her children going back to the mid-90s.
Back then she lived in New York where child protective authorities discovered one of her daughters, a one-year-old, to have multiple broken bones and a three-year-old showed signs of having been burned with cigarettes. That was in 1996, and it took New York authorities three years to get those children away from Lawhorn.
Anita Lawhorn voluntarily gave up two other kids in 1999 in New York, three years after her 1-year-old daughter was found with four broken bones, and her 3-year-old girl had apparent cigarette burns on her chest.
But that didn’t dissuade her from having more children. The apparently cocaine-addicted Lawhorn gave birth to Jamarion in 2002 and was under investigation again by child-protective authorities two years later, this time in Michigan. By 2013, Jamarion was the victim of more substantiated abuse at the hands of Lawhorn and her boyfriend. Plus,
He lived in a “deplorable” home with no utilities, no sheets or blankets on the beds, cocaine paraphernalia in the bathroom and little food in the kitchen, court records show.
Such was Jamarion Lawhorn’s life until he, at 12, decided to end it.
At this point, it’s appropriate to mention that victims of violent domestic abuse as children often go on to become abusers themselves. Indeed, it’s one of the most enduring and reliable of predictions about any serial abuser of children; those who abuse were abused. Pioneer British anti-DV activist Erin Pizzey knows as much about the realities of domestic abuse as anyone on the planet and she’s been hammering home the same message for decades now. It’s a message she learned back in the early 70s when she started the first domestic violence shelter in the United Kingdom. The intergenerational nature of domestic violence Pizzey identified then is by now well known.
But Jamarion Lawhorn didn’t wait to grow up. Abused himself, he took out the resulting rage and self-loathing on another child long before he’d had any of his own to abuse. The repeated abuse he endured, the wretched conditions of his “home” life, surely convinced him early on of his own complete lack of self-worth. How could they not? Who but a worthless child would be treated the way he was from the earliest days of his life? Who but a worthless child would be ignored time and again by child protective workers, whose very job it was to make sure he didn’t have to endure the pain and humiliation any longer?
Yes, once in 2013, Jamarion went to live with his father, Lonnell Washington and things apparently went well there.
Jamarion’s father, Lonnell Washington Sr., of Geneva, NY, told Target 8 that his son came to live with him after the 2013 abuse.
Then, in June, after Jamarion returned to Michigan to visit for a week, his mother refused send him back to New York, the father said.
It would have been about then that he started planning his own brutal and violent exit from this life. Surely the realization that he would not be returning to his father’s care as had apparently been agreed on played a major role in Jamarion’s development of his plan. Who but a worthless child would be saved from abuse only to be returned to it with no possible escape?
If I can be given the leeway to try to stand in Jamarion’s shoes for a while, I’d say that, his victim was anything but a random one. Oh, Jamarion had no conscious understanding of what he was doing. In his mind, he was selecting a victim – any victim – whose death would bring about his own. But friends and neighbors describe Connor Verkerke as an all but perfect child. He was “angelic,” loving, came from a stable family, had plenty of friends and a large extended family in whose love he basked every hour of every day.
Connor Verkerke was, in short, the very opposite of Jamarion Lawhorn. Despised and made fun of at school, alternately beaten or ignored at home, he watched his utterly brutal and dysfunctional mother and probably had some inkling of what life held in store for him. And in his mind, he deserved it all, the abuse, the teasing, the squalid living conditions. Surely he felt himself to be stupid, incompetent, unlovable - all the things Connor Verkerke was not.
And so Jamarion’s rage was anything but random. Connor was perfect – a perfect child and thus a perfect object for Jamarion’s all-encompassing self-hate. He represented everything that was worth having and everything that was worth being. He represented the last vestige of decency that Jamarion sensed in himself, and so, by destroying that, by finally exterminating his last hope that something in himself might be worth saving, a boy paved his own way to his own death. The police say that, when he was told that Connor had died, Jamarion shed a single tear and then his face returned to stone and stayed that way. A single final tear for the wide world of possibilities that every child has, that Jamarion Lawhorn once had, possibilities that finally were dead. Dead at 12.
Such, at any rate is my take on the unmitigated tragedy of Jamarion Lawhorn’s life and Connor Verkerke’s death. A brutal mother, an incompetent system of child protective services and now a prosecutor who sees Jamarion Lawhorn as an adult have taken two small lives. Jamarion isn’t literally dead, but he may as well be. The light went out of his eyes for good just after that single tear rolled down his cheek.
The single bright spot in this horrible tale is Connor’s grandfather, Bill Verkerke, who, though he has lost his much-loved grandson, still has found it in him to extend love and understanding to Jamarion Lawhorn, perhaps the first of his life
Bill Verkerke, the grandfather of victim Connor Verkerke, said that after learning about Jamarion’s background from Target 8, he is angry at the mother and the state.
“Anger is a justifiable emotion, but it’s worse than anger,” Verkerke said. “You can’t be mad at that child, the 12-year-old. What are you going to do to the state? I don’t know what you do with them. Could sue them I guess, but that won’t change anything…”
“She should be held criminally accountable,” Connor’s grandfather said. “Not only for what she did to her son… but maybe for what her son did to my grandson…”
Connor’s grandfather says it’s clear Jamarion needed help.
“Maybe even a hug would have done, you know. Maybe Connor could have gave him a hug,” Verkerke said. “I’m sure he would have given him a hug. If he’d known he needed one, he’d have given him one. He was that kind of kid.”
The DA should have such wisdom and compassion, but he doesn’t. He’s got bigger fish to fry, like advancing his own career and reputation at the expense of a 12-year-old kid who’s been abused all his life. What a guy.
The dubious notion of Battered Woman Syndrome has relieved countless women of punishment by the criminal justice system for their acts of murder and attempted murder. They’ve often escaped conviction despite there being no evidence of their having been abused. Mental health professionals now tell us that the “Battered” part of Battered Woman Syndrome is optional. If, they tell us, she fears her husband and comes to believe that he could use physical force to maintain control over her, she is entitled to be relieved of all criminal responsibility for homicide.
Will the same olive branch be extended to a 12-year-old boy who we know to have been severely beaten time and again by a depraved mother? It should be. But Jamarion Lawhorn is black, the District Attorney tells us he’s an adult and above all, he’s male. And those three facts don’t bode well for anyone who finds himself under the boot of the criminal justice system in the United States.
But maybe that system should listen for once to the voice of reason, justice and compassion. Maybe it should listen to Bill Verkerke when he says it’s clear Jamarion needed help. He still does.
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