A Detroit man who was convicted of killing a woman when he was 12 years old will be released on his 21st birthday Monday from a juvenile detention center.
Wayne County Juvenile Judge Virgil Smith made the ruling Friday in the case of Demarco Harris, who was convicted in May 2010 for the August 2009 shooting death of Trisha Babcock, 24, of Davison.
State law requires that Harris, who has been confined at the Calumet Correctional Facility, be released when he turns 21. Harris was charged as an adult designated defendant but was sentenced in 2010 as a juvenile on felony murder and armed robbery charges.
Three years after the defendant’s conviction, the U.S. Supreme Court made a decision that changed the way in which juvenile offenders convicted of life offenses can be sentenced
Smith said he wanted to “go beyond” the statute and have Harris serve two years of probation when he is released.
“Yes, I want to hold it over his head,” Smith said, referring to his desire to tack on the probation once Harris is let out.
Both the prosecutor and Harris’ defense attorney said Smith did not have the judicial authority to tack on probation to Harris’ release, and the judge reluctantly agreed.
Smith warned Harris that “this juvenile conviction will follow you the rest of your life.”
Harris’ attorney also urged him to stay out of trouble or otherwise he could end up in an adult prison doing time as part of his blended adult/juvenile sentence.
Harris shot Babcock to death around midnight Aug. 1, 2009, during an alleged bungled robbery as she sat with a friend at a city park on the corner of West Outer Drive and Evergreen in Detroit.
In testimony at a hearing for Harris, authorities said the young woman was shot in the chest during the botched robbery by Harris.
Babcock’s dad, Steven Babcock, waved his daughter’s picture and death certificate in court Friday before reading his statements about her.
He called social workers’ and others’ claims that Harris was rehabilitated a “love fest” for the young convict, who sat a few feet from him.
Saying he was living his own life sentence with the loss of his daughter, Babcock told the judge his life was “filled with utter sorrow.”
“It’s excruciating,” Steven Babcock said, his voice breaking at times. “This crime deserves life in prison.”
The judge told him, “I can’t begin to feel your anguish or your pain.”
Associate Wayne County Prosecutor Robert Heimbuch told the judge he could not meet his burden of proof that Harris should not be released back into society because of testimony Friday from social workers that Harris was successfully rehabilitated.
Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said in a statement Friday that Harris did everything that was asked of him while incarcerated and that experts who evaluated his case found he would “not present a danger to society.”
“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,” Worthy said. “We are aware that Ms. Babcock’s father does not agree with the termination and we sympathize with him.”
Harris’ godsister Gerika McNeal said she is happy with the outcome and hopes Harris stays out of trouble.
“At the end of the day, it’s a no-win situation. They lost a daughter,” she said.
Earlier, Trisha Babcock’s grandmother, Brenda Babcock, read a letter standing before Harris, saying he was a “cold hearted” killer and asked that he be sent to an adult prison instead of being released.
“A leopard never does change his spots,” said Brenda Babcock. “This brutal act done by Demarco Harris should not be overlooked.”
Harris spoke too. Reading from a typed letter, Harris said he is “a prime example of what rehabilitation looks like” and that he deserves a second chance at life.
Harris added, “I’m truly apologetic” for Trisha Babcock’s death.
Social workers testified Harris has been successfully rehabilitated, is a “model resident” and would not be a danger to society if he was released.
Jennifer Sloan, an associate clinical director for Spectrum Juvenile Justice Services, said Harris was remorseful and owned up to his crime.
“He utilizes his story to keep it from happening in other lives,” Sloan said during the hearing.
While incarcerated, Harris had not been in any trouble with the exception of a minor incident and he has completed high school and taken online courses through a community college, social workers said.
“Based on the behavior he’s exhibited, I have no reason to believe he would reoffend,” said Sloan.
Another social worker testified that Harris would be a low risk for being released but that he should enroll in college, therapy and a re-entry program to ensure he would be successful after spending years locked up.
Dr. Raymond Small, a psychologist for one of the social-service agencies who worked with Harris during his incarceration, said he is “optimistic but guarded” about Harris’ release and whether he has the potential to commit another crime if he is released.
Small said Harris should not go back to his former home or surroundings and needs to work on starting a new life.
“I wouldn’t want this young man to be released back into his former stomping grounds,” said Small. “If he is released, he should continue individual cognitive therapy.”
Small said Harris’ risk at committing another crime “becomes lessened if he has services.”