Teen who killed boy at playground could be free at 21

AP News
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Posted: Nov 04, 2015 5:52 PM

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) — A 13-year-old boy who fatally stabbed another boy at a playground in western Michigan was sentenced Wednesday to a detention center with the possibility that he could be free when he turns 21.

There was no dispute that the boy, who was 12 in 2014, killed Michael Connor Verkerke, 9, at a playground in Kentwood, near Grand Rapids. The defense argued that years of abuse at home had ruined the boy's mental health and overwhelmed his decisions, but the jury convicted him of first-degree murder.

The teen will go to a juvenile detention center in Evart. If he meets expectations, he could be released at 21, although prosecutors could seek a prison term at that age, too.

"I believe in redemption. I'm not willing to give that up on a 13-year-old boy at this point," Kent County Judge Paul Denenfeld said.

The Associated Press isn't naming the teen because of his age.

"I'm sorry for all the pain you are going through," he said in court, apologizing to Verkerke's family. "I wanted to die because I thought there was no way out."

He was referring to his motive for killing the boy, known as Connor. He told police at the time that he was "fed up with life" in his abusive home and wanted to be locked up for life or given the death penalty.

Dani and Jared Verkerke greatly miss their son but said the sentence was satisfactory.

"It's up to him and how much effort he puts into rehabilitating himself and becoming a better person," Jared Verkerke said.

The teen's mother attended the court hearing in shackles. She is awaiting a sentence for a child abuse conviction.