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Talk It Out: Effects of abuse should shield children from criminal responsibility

The jury on the case of the 13-year-old Jamarion Lawhorn from Michigan who stabbed 9-year old Michael Verkerke did not make the best decision they could.

Lawhorn is known to have suffered abuse at home abnd domestic abuse is known to have various effects on the behavioral, emotional and mental stability of children.

The effects of abuse can be severe and long lasting. Children suffering from the emotional trauma of abuse are known to exhibit self-harm.

After stabbing and killing Verkerke, Lawhorn called the police proclaiming he himself needed to be killed and sent to the electric chair, he was exhibiting a degree of self-harm symptomatic of an abusive childhood.

That is not something a mentally stable person would say—calmly or otherwise. Lawhorn wanted to be killed so that he did not have to go back home and suffer more abuse dispensed by his mother and stepfather.

While Lawhorn understood the police are in place to take away those who do not uphold the law, the reason he felt that way about himself was based on abuse. This is a broken boy from a broken home with a damaged childhood and an even more tattered psyche.

Lawhorn knew that he had to do something major to be taken from home. The problem was that instead of going for help, he went in the opposite direction and turned to murder. This is a sign that he is unstable and needs help, not a lifelong punishment.

According to a July 2013 Child Welfare Information Gateway study, boys who experience violence are more likely to act out in violent ways. I understand the sentiment behind wanting to get justice, but at what cost is justice to be served? At the cost of the life of a young boy victimized by a traumatic childhood and made unstable by those very circumstances? That is not justice—not to me.

Children who experience abuse are nine times more likely to partake in criminal activity. Environment shapes everyone. If a person is borne out of a toxic environment and situation, then toxic behavior is sure to follow. The defendant is also a victim—a victim of circumstance—which caused him to act out in a destructive way. People should not turn their backs on any victims.

A 12-year-old is still a child and for that reason alone should not be tried as an adult. Adding in the mental instability and traumatic childhood, then it is clear that this boy was not only too young to understand, but too damaged as well.

The day America starts trying children as adults is a day that I do not want to see. There is a reason why children are not able to give consent or be held legally responsible for their actions, and this is no different.

Follow Mikala Everett on Twitter at @mikala_maquella.