(WJBK) - Now almost 21 years old, a man convicted of murdering a woman in Detroit when he was 12 years old has been set free.
Judge Virgil C. Smith ruled Friday that during his almost 8 years behind bars, DeMarco Harris has been successfully rehabilitated and will not return to prison, and instead will be released Monday.
Harris was convicted of felony murder, assault with intent to commit murder, and felony firearm for killing 24-year-old Davison resident Trisha Babcock, who was fatally shot in her car at point-blank range during a robbery in August 2009.
With Harris's 21st birthday on Monday, his sentence as a juvenile has maxed out. A judge had to revisit the case Friday after a 2012 Supreme Court ruling declared it cruel and unusual for those who committed crimes as a minor to be automatically sentenced to life in prison.
Several people took the stand during the proceeding, including therapists, psychologists, the victim's family, and even DeMarco himself.
PSYCHOLOGISTS, THERAPISTS: HE’S LOW-RISK
First was a therapist who had worked extensively with DeMarco when he was first sentenced. She says he was compliant, polite and reasonably social.
"I could tell he really didn’t understand the gravity," she testified.
She says he did not try to deflect his role in the crime, and that he did not deny what he had done. Nor did he blame anyone else.
She recommended DeMarco be set free, with help adjusting to life outside prison. A second therapist echoed the sentiments, but also spoke to Harris' family life.
"He has strong relationships with his family members," she said.
She went on to testify that says typically those with a history of violence demonstrate violence during rehabilitation, but Harris did not show those signs. She says he’d been assaulted while behind bars, but instead of fighting back or getting even, he’d walk away.
Defense called to the stand an assistant professor in theatre at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor.
"DeMarco and the other boys who lived in the same pod ... would play theatre games with us," she said.
She said he was a mentor to the younger kids, and would calm anyone who had anyone with emotional outbursts down. The other boys wanted to be like him.
THE VICTIM'S FAMILY SPEAKS
It was time for her father to speak. He took the beginning to thank those who have been involved - the judge, the jury, the prosecutors, and Trisha's friends.
"Trisha made me feel as though I had a purpose in this life. She was incredible. She loved school. She was gifted. She graduated top 5," he said, his voice breaking.
“I miss her voice, her smile, her laughter, her joy. I miss her saying I love you daddy.”
Finally the time came for DeMarco himself to speak before the court moments before learning his sentence.
Reading off a prepared statement, DeMarco said that substance abuse, peer pressure, and irrational acts from an idle mind contributed to the crime. But emphasized how much he's changed.
"I never thought that rehab would make such an impact on my life," he said.
He noted that he had participated in workshops with universities, earned certificates and took 9 weeks of culinary arts. He says he earned his GED and enrolled in college.
"These are all milestones that have made a big impact," he said.
Defense had a final time to speak, again reiterating that DeMarco is a new man who has benefited from rehabilitation, and that he was influenced by those older than him in the wrong direction.
"He has learned not to follow but to lead, as you heard other people testify," the attorney said.
"This is probably the toughest case I've faced in 12 years," the judge began.
He then walked the court through his decision-making process based on facts and case law. He said DeMarco's participation in rehabilitation and education, and the fact that he accepted responsibility for the crime, are factors to take into consideration.
"The court does feel that it was successful in terms of his rehabilitation," the judge said. "I do not feel that he would be an immediate danger to the public."
On Friday afternoon and just days before his 21st birthday, the judge granted DeMarco his freedom after eight years in prison.
Watch the proceeding on FOX 2 News Now with Kellie Rowe below:
Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy released the following statement:
“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."