Child abuse conviction upheld for mother of Kent County's youngest killer

Conviction upheld

GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. - The mother of Kent County’s youngest killer lost a bid to have her child abuse conviction overturned on grounds the criminal statute is too vague.

Anita Lawhorn was convicted of third-degree child abuse involving her son, Jamarion, who fatally stabbed an 8-year-old boy at a playground in Kentwood.

Related: Attorney: Jamarion Lawhorn making strides in juvenile detention

At trial, the lawyer for Jamarion Lawhorn argued that years of abuse at the hands of his mother and step-father were factors in the Aug. 2014 stabbing.

The mother, now 41, was sentenced in Nov. 2015 to a year in jail and placed on probation for five years.

In her appeal, Lawhorn argued the third-degree child abuse statute does not spell out what constitutes physical harm.

“Testimony at trial revealed that defendant admitted she ‘whupped’ the victim with a belt, hit him ‘too hard’ and caused marks to be left on the victim,’’ justices wrote. Beating her son with a belt and causing scars falls within the conduct prohibited by the child abuse statute, the three-judge panel wrote. The nine-page decision was released today.

Earlier: Jamarion Lawhorn's stepfather begins serving term for child abuse

Lawhorn “essentially argues that to avoid being considered unconstitutionally vague, the statute should specifically delineate all of the acceptable and unacceptable forms of corporal punishment and should define physical harm more narrowly,’’ justices wrote. “Physical harm is indeed defined broadly by the statute to include any injury to a child’s physical condition. But an offense need not be defined with mathematical certainty.’’

She also took exception to her sentence, saying it was unreasonable given that her minimum guideline range was 0 to 11 months in jail. Justices disagreed.

The Appeals Court said the sentence was “proportionate to the seriousness of the circumstances surrounding the offense and the offender.’’

Kent County Circuit Court Judge Paul Sullivan ordered that Lawhorn initially serve 150 days in jail and be released. The remainder of her sentence will come at the end of her probation. If she completes probation without violations, the remainder of the jail sentence could be suspended.

Allegations of abuse came to light after Jamarion Lawhorn, then 12, fatally stabbed Connor Verkerke at a playground at Pinewood Village mobile home park in Kentwood.

The Aug. 4, 2014 stabbing garnered national headlines. Jamarion Lawhorn was convicted of murder and is being held at the Muskegon River Youth Home in Osceola County.

Lawhorn, now 15, will remain in juvenile detention until he turns 21 years old. Once he turns 21, a judge will decide if he will serve a life sentence.

In an opinion released last month, the Court of Appeals upheld his first-degree murder conviction.

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