DETROIT, MI – Today the Prosecutor Kym Worthy requested that Judge Virgil C. Smith conduct a final review hearing for DeMarco Harris, to determine whether imposing an adult sentence would serve the best interests of the public. Today the court ruled that, Harris’s juvenile wardship will be terminated and he will be released from incarceration on Monday, September 18, 2017.
Facts of the Offense
On the night of August 1, 2009, the victim, Trisha Babcock, picked up a friend, Johne Williams, and the two parked under a streetlight at Outer Drive and Minock in Detroit. The victim’s companion reported that the two were sitting in the car talking when they were approached by the Defendant, DeMarco Harris, who was 12-years-old (DOB: 09/18/1996). According to Mr. Williams, the Defendant pointed the gun at the victim and told her to give him all her money. The victim screamed and attempted to roll up the window. Defendant then fired one shot at the victim, hitting her in the shoulder. Mr. Williams ran from the car after the victim was shot, but turned back to observe the Defendant with his hand stuck in the car window. When police arrived at the location, they called for an EMS however the nearest EMS was 10 minutes away. Officers then transported Ms. Babock to the hospital in the police vehicle. At the hospital, the victim was pronounced dead from a single gunshot wound. Per testimony given during the jury trial, defendant fled the scene in a vehicle. Per the police investigation, fingerprints were found on the victim’s car window and later the Defendant was identified as Demarco Harris. Defendant Harris was later arrested at his home.
At the time of the fatal shooting, the defendant was 12 years and 11 months old, and the case was charged as an adult-designated case. The defendant was charged with one count of Felony Murder, Assault with Intent to Commit Robbery while Armed, and Felony Firearm.
Defendant was found guilty of all counts following a jury trial and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole on the Felony Murder count, 18 to 40 years on the Assault with Intent to Commit Robbery while Armed count, and 2 years on the Felony Firearm Count.
After his 2010 conviction, he was placed at the Spectrum Juvenile Justice Services (“SJJS”).
Miller Decision, Michigan Law and the Effect on the Demarco Harris Case
In 2012, three years after the defendant’s conviction, the United States Supreme Court made a decision that changed the way in which juvenile offenders convicted of life offenses can be sentenced. In Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012), the Court held that a mandatory sentence of life without parole for a Defendant who was convicted of murder for a crime committed before his or her eighteenth birthday was unconstitutional (479). As a result of the Miller findings, the Michigan Legislature enacted MCL 769.25 to address life without parole for a defendant less than 18 years old. Per MCL 769.25(9), “If the court decides not to sentence the individual to imprisonment for life without parole eligibility, the court shall sentence the individual to a term of imprisonment for which the maximum term shall be not less than 60 years and the minimum term shall be not less than 25 years or more than 40 years.”
The effect of this change in the law means that if the Court can opt to sentence Harris to a term of years as an adult, he would be eligible to receive credit for time served against the mandatory minimum of 25 years, as a result of his detainment in a secure detention facility since his initial placement at 13 years of age.
Final Review Hearing
Since Harris is nearing his 21st birthday, the court conducted a final review of the juvenile’s probation and/or commitment. At the hearing the court determines that if the best interests of the public would be served by imposing any other sentence provided by law for an adult offender, the court may impose that sentence. MCL 712A.18i(7).
At this Final Review Hearing, it is the prosecuting attorney that bears the burden of proof regarding the need to impose an adult sentence. MCR 3.956(A)(4)(a) states, “…before the court may continue jurisdiction over the juvenile or impose sentence, the prosecuting attorney must demonstrate by a preponderance of the evidence that the juvenile has not been rehabilitated or that the juvenile presents a serious risk to public safety.”
Factors to be Considered by the Court
MCL 712A.18i(a)-(g) details the factors that this Court must take into consideration when deciding whether to either continue jurisdiction and impose an adult sentence on Harris or terminate jurisdiction, thereby releasing Harris back into the community.
The extent and nature of the juvenile’s participation in education, counseling, or work programs:
Harris was placed at the Spectrum Juvenile Justice Services (“SJJS”). Since being at this location he has been offered counseling, has completed his high school diploma on June 18, 2014, Culinary Art Training in April 2014, completed a 12 Step Substance Abuse Group Program and was accepted to Henry Ford Community College to complete college credits.
2. The juvenile’s willingness to accept responsibility for prior behavior:
According to the Wayne County Health, Veterans and Community Wellness Juvenile and Youth Services Division Youth Social History Report dated August 21, 2017, Harris’s clinical case manager at Lincoln Center reports that he appears to be remorseful and has accepted responsibility for his actions.
3. The juvenile’s behavior in his or her current placement:
The most recent Spectrum Juvenile Services Lincoln Center Secure Residential Treatment Program Court Report dated August 29, 2017 indicates that Harris has not incited physical aggression or violence since his admission to SJJS and has regularly followed the rules and guidelines of the SJJS treatment program.
4. The prior record and character of the juvenile and his or her physical and mental maturity:
The only adult conviction defendant Harris has is the matter at hand: First Degree-Felony Murder, Felony Firearm and Assault to Commit Robbery While Armed. As for juvenile delinquency cases, Harris had three prior contacts: 1.) Incorrigibility (8/14/2008), to which he admitted responsibility and was referred for mental health services; 2.) Entering Without Owner’s Permission (1/30/2009), which was dismissed without prejudice, and; 3.) a School Truancy Petition (7/16/2009) which was dismissed without prejudice. Moreover, according to the Spectrum Report, since Harris was admitted to SJJS, he has demonstrated the growth, maturity and emerging leadership qualities typical of a thriving young adult.
5. The juvenile’s potential for violent conduct as demonstrated by prior behavior:
A report dated August 15, 2017 (‘Psychological Evaluation”), the evaluating psychologist spoke with a security staff member who has been employed for five years and verified that Harris has not caused any problems during the time he has been incarcerated.
6. The recommendations of any institution or agency charged with the juvenile’s care for the juvenile’s release or continued custody:
According to the Level 2 Probation Court Report prepared by Harris’s Case Management Organization (‘CMO”), Starr/Vista, dated August 29, 2017, Harris’s current risk level is low. The CMO notes that Harris was placed at the Lincoln Center in July of 2010 following his conviction and he completed the program in 2016. He has continued to be in a secure placement per the initial court order and conviction. The CMO also notes that Harris had attained the highest level status at the facility at the time of this assessment. The CMO recommends that Harris’s wardship is terminated as a result of his successful and consistent progress and completion of his treatment program.” Moreover, Assured Family Services (“AFS”) also recommends that Harris be released, recommending his reintegration back into the community with proper support.
7. The effect of treatment on the juvenile’s rehabilitation:
The most recent Spectrum Juvenile Services Lincoln Center Secure Residential Treatment Program Court Report (“Spectrum Report”) dated August 29, 2017, indicates that:
“Since his arrival to [sic] Lincoln Center in 2010, Harris has met all of the treatment milestones affixed with the rehabilitation process, and exceeded the educational, behavioral, and social expectations set forth by the courts at the time of his sentencing, and throughout subsequent progress review hearings over the past 7 years. Harris’s relationship with both peers and staff has been positive, and he’s continued to be a model resident at the Lincoln Center. Harris has successfully completing all seven stages of the treatment component of the program, as well as the psycho-educational, life skills and reintegration planning phases of the program, as well. Harris has obtained the highest privilege level in the program, and remains on level five of a five level privilege system. … Harris consistently assists peers on all the pods throughout the treatment center, including, but not limited to those who are having difficulty with their behavior.
“Harris has served as a lead facilitator of the peer leadership group held weekly at Lincoln Center, participated and co-facilitated meetings and functions within the Project Reentry Program, Caught Up, and maintains his role as a mentor to individuals and groups of peers throughout Lincoln Center. Harris has led building tours and informational meetings for guests including stakeholders, community leaders and dignitaries, and co-facilitates monthly Youth Deterrent group meetings involving [his] peers and adjudicated youth from the community who are at risk for escalation to Probation Level 2. Harris regularly co-facilitates psycho-educational group sessions with pods across the Lincoln Treatment Center in addition to his serving as a peer mentor to identified youth throughout the treatment center.” (Spectrum Report, page 2)
Whether the juvenile is likely to be dangerous to the public if released:
As stated in his clinical psychiatric assessment report on Assured Family Services stationary dated August 17, 2017 (“Psychiatric Evaluation”), the “prognosis for success [for Harris] remains fair to guarded.” This statement appears to be indicative of the professional assessments that the court ordered in preparation for Harris’s Final Review Hearing. Throughout these assessments, there is a recognition that, as stated in the Psychological Evaluation, that “Harris has now lived for years, during a critical phase in his psychological development, in a highly structured environment that has sharply constrained his autonomous decision-making and interaction with peers. In the event of his release into the community, Harris will require extensive monitoring, supervision and support to adjust to his new setting, level of independence, and responsibilities.” (Psychological Evaluation, page 6) Further, the Psychological Evaluation points out that “while [Harris] has made therapeutic progress and matured over time in a highly structured setting with access to treatment, his potential for release back into the community requires extensive planning and consideration if pursued.” (Psychological Evaluation, page 6) This is particularly true, the evaluator notes, given that Harris will soon be old enough to purchase and consume alcohol legally and Harris had a history of drug and alcohol use prior to his placement.
The best interests of the public welfare and the protection of public security:
It is noted that the CMO has recommended that Harris’s wardship be terminated at the Final Review Hearing as “a result of [Harris’s] successful and consistent progress and completion of his treatment program.” It is the hope of the People that further testimony can be elicited at the Final Review Hearing as to the issue of “best interests of the public welfare and the protection of public security.”
Victim Impact Statement:
The father of Trisha Babcock, Mr. Steven Babcock, addressed the Court and provided an in-person Victim Impact Statement during the Final Review Hearing. He expressed that he and his family did not think that Harris has been rehabilitated and should remain incarcerated.
Following review and the application of the factors set forth in MCL 712A.18i(3)(a)-(g), the court must determine whether the prosecutor has shown by a preponderance of the evidence that the juvenile has not been rehabilitated or that the juvenile presents a serious risk to public safety.
Upon careful analysis and consideration of the factors set forth in MCL 712A.18i(8)(a)-(g), WCPO is not able to sustain our burden to prove that the defendant would presently be a serious risk to public safety if his wardship were to be terminated and he were to be released. WCPO also concedes difficulty demonstrating beyond a preponderance of the evidence that, after more than eight years of intensive juvenile programming and services, Harris has not been rehabilitated. Based upon the defendant’s positive response to rehabilitation as imposed by this Court, successful juvenile programming, his very young age at the time the offense was committed and current “low” risk assessment for re-offending, the People cannot establish that this Defendant’s prior crime and conduct show him to be “irreparably corrupt” in accordance with Miller.
Statement of Prosecutor Worthy
“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.
“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. For these reasons, the court ruled that based upon the law and evidence that Harris’s wardship will be terminated. We earnestly hope and pray that Mr. Harris will be as productive in society as he has been for the last eight years in his placement.”