A 12-year-old Michigan boy pleaded not guilty to murder in the stabbing death of a 9-year-old boy on a playground in Kentwood on Monday evening. The younger boy ran home screaming before collapsing on the porch bleeding. He was taken to a hospital, where he died a short while later.
After stabbing Michael Connor Verkerke, the 12-year-old phoned 911 from the nearby home of Glen Stacy and turned himself in. Speaking to The Grand Rapids Press, Stacy described the older boy as “very calm” when he reported the attack to dispatchers and quoted the 12-year-old boy as saying, “I just stabbed someone. Come and get me. I want to die.” When officers arrived, they immediately headed for the home of the victim, but the 12-year-old attempted to flag them down, saying “I’m right here. You’re going the wrong way.”
The Associated Press spoke to a witness, Barb Poelman, who lives in the Pinebrook Village trailer park in Kentwood, Michigan, in which the playground is located. She said that she was outside on her deck when she heard children screaming as they ran in front of her mobile home. She said that Michael was running with the rest of the children. She described Michael’s mother as being distraught as she laid on her lawn, her son was bleeding on the porch, screaming, “Where is the ambulance?” Poelman said that she thought the children were “just playing.”
Investigators spoke to people who witnessed the incident and said that a group of four children had been playing when all of sudden, one of them pulled out a knife and stabbed another in the back. Tiffany Armijo, whose son was playing with Michael and the other boys before the attack, said that she had never seen the older boy before today. She said the group of boys consisted of Michael, his brother, her son and the alleged attacker. She said that her son and Michael were best friends and that Michael was “a good kid” who frequented the Armijo house. According to Poelman, Michael lived in the Kentwood, Michigan, trailer park with two siblings and his parents.
Charles Boekeloo, attorney for the 12-year-old boy, said that his client has been charged in juvenile court and has been ordered to be held in a juvenile detention center as he awaits a hearing next week. Kentwood Police Chief Thomas Hillen said that investigators are currently trying to determine a motive for the stabbing. Boekeloo entered a plea of not guilty on behalf of his client during court today. He is contemplating whether to request psychiatric testing on the 12-year-old to see if he is competent enough to stand trial for the murder charges against him.
Although the 12-year-old is being tried in the Michigan juvenile court system, he has been designated as an adult, which means that if he is convicted, he would be sentenced first as a juvenile. A family court judge will review his case every three months with the opportunity to hand down an adult sentence if he so chooses. When the alleged murderer turns 21 years old, if an adult sentence has not been imposed, the judge will make a final decision to release him from the supervision of the court or to hand down an adult sentence. Assistant Prosecutor Laura Clifton sent an email on Tuesday evening in which she said that the 12-year-old is being held without bail. Despite the option for the blended sentencing, he will stand trial as an adult and if convicted, will have an adult criminal record. A preliminary hearing in the case is scheduled to take place on Aug. 13.
By Jennifer Pfalz
The Kansas City Star
Detroit Free Press