DETROIT - A young man who committed murder in Detroit when he was 12 will be freed on Monday, his 21st birthday.
DeMarco Harris shot and killed 24-year-old Trisha Babcock in a botched robbery in 2009. After his convictions, Harris was ordered to stay in a juvenile facility until he was 21, leaving Wayne County Circuit Judge Virgil Smith to decide whether he should be released or go to prison.
Smith listened to testimony today from people who have worked with Harris over the years and recommended he be released. He also heard from Babcock’s father and grandmother, who wanted Harris to go to prison.
Ultimately, Smith concluded that Harris would not be a danger to the public if released, citing reports submitted by professionals in the case. Before issuing his ruling, Smith said the case was probably the toughest he has faced as a judge.
Smith told Harris that his murder conviction will follow him for the rest of his life. He warned Harris that if he broke the law again, he can expect a judge to “throw the book at you.”
Trisha Babcock’s father, Steven Babcock, brought a framed photo of his daughter to court and her death certificate. He said his life has been shattered and the pain and anguish is impossible to describe.
“My daughter deserves justice,” he said.
Steven Babcock said Harris deserves life in prison for his crime, and he accused Harris of playing the system while in a juvenile detention center.
Others urged that Harris be released into the community.
“Over the years, DeMarco has met and exceeded treatment expectations as well as conduct expectations and academic expectations,” said Jennifer Sloan, associate clinical director of Spectrum Juvenile Justice Services.
She said she has no reason to believe he would be at risk of reoffending based on his response to treatment and his conduct over the past seven years.
“He owns what he did,” Sloan told the court. “He owns how he imagines it impacted everyone involved.”
Harris graduated from high school in the facility and hasn’t shown aggression toward anyone, she said.
The courtroom in the Lincoln Hall of Justice in Detroit was packed with the victim’s family, the defendant’s family, other supporters and media.
A jury in Wayne County convicted Harris of felony murder, armed robbery and curfew violation in 2010. It was his second trial. His first trial ended with a hung jury.
During the trial, Harris claimed he was forced by an older youth to rob Babcock while she was talking in a parked car on the city’s west side.
He left his fingerprints behind, which led authorities to him. Harris had earlier contacts with juvenile authorities, including a petition claiming he was uncontrollable, so his fingerprints were on record.
Harris spoke today and said he is remorseful and “truly apologetic.”
“I feel that I am a prime example of what rehabilitation looks like and absolutely deserve a second chance in society,” he said.
His attorney, George Chedraue, said Harris wishes he could take back what he did and has learned to lead, not follow.
“He has been rehabilitated,” Chedraue said.
Wayne County Assistant Prosecutor Robert Heimbuch said the burden was with prosecutors to prove that Harris has not been rehabilitated. He told the court they can’t meet that burden with the evidence in the case, including reports and testimony.
After the decision was issued to release Harris, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy issued a statement.
“In the criminal justice system, we are called upon to make difficult and heart-wrenching decisions almost every day. Our decision in this case to recommend that the judge forgo any further imprisonment for DeMarco Harris was no exception. We are aware that Ms. Babcock's father does not agree with the termination and we sympathize with him,” the statement said.
‘“Harris was 12 years old when he committed the horrific, inexcusable and tragic murder of Trisha Babcock. There is no doubt about that. Since Harris was incarcerated at age 13, he has accepted responsibility for the crimes he committed, has done everything that has been asked of him during the course of his incarceration, and has excelled academically while in a high-security facility. In the opinion of the experts who have evaluated his case, he does not present a danger to society.”
© 2017, Detroit Free Press