Video: 12-year-old murder suspect could face life sentence

updated 8/20/2009 11:23:14 AM ET 2009-08-20T15:23:14

A 12-year-old Detroit boy accused of shooting a 24-year-old woman to death during a street robbery could face an adult murder sentence of life in prison without parole if he's convicted, authorities said Wednesday.

Demarco Harris was being held Wednesday at the Wayne County juvenile detention facility. Police said officers contacted the boy's father Friday, and the man brought his son in to be arrested.

According to police, the boy tried to rob Trisha Babcock, 24, of Davison, just after midnight on Aug. 1. She had come to Detroit seeking work as a dancer and was sitting in the driver's seat of a parked car when the boy pointed his gun at her and a struggle ensued, police said. He shot her once in the chest, police said, and she later died at a hospital.

Harris is charged with felony murder, armed robbery, having a firearm during a felony and violating curfew.

He is too young to be charged as an adult under Michigan law, but the prosecutor's office filed the case with an adult designation. That means the judge can choose to impose an adult sentence. For felony murder, that would be mandatory life in prison without possibility of parole.

Chief: 'Things have changed'
"I could not have been out at night when I was 12," police Chief Warren Evans told reporters Wednesday. "Things have changed."

Police have not said how Harris got the gun, which they have not found yet. But Evans expressed frustration at the widespread presence of guns on the city's streets, particularly in the hands of young people.

"There are days when the shootings — everyone (victim and suspect) is a juvenile," he said. "There are too many guns out there."

In Michigan, cases with an adult designation are tried in juvenile court. After a conviction, the judge has a choice to sentence the juvenile as an adult or as a juvenile, or to defer the decision until the child reaches adulthood.

"It's the most responsible way of charging in this case," said Maria Miller, spokeswoman for Prosecutor Kym Worthy.

Defense lawyer Jeffrey G. Schwartz represented Harris during his brief arraignment Saturday but said the family planned to hire a private lawyer. Schwartz said he knows little about the circumstances but said there are many directions such a case could take.

"The bottom line is in an adult designation case, the judge can sentence the defendant as an adult, as a juvenile or (give) a blended sentence," he said. "There could be a plea bargain."

Michigan's law allowing life prison terms for children first drew widespread attention when Nathaniel Abraham, then 11, was charged with murder in the sniper-killing of an 18-year-old Pontiac neighbor in 1997. He was convicted of second-degree murder and released after his 21st birthday.

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