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Jury in murder trial of 13-year-old Michigan boy hears about beatings, tough childhood

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GRAND RAPIDS, Michigan — The stepfather of a 13-year-old boy who killed another boy at a park said Wednesday that he beat the teen with a belt, testimony that was intended to reinforce an insanity defense during the murder trial.

There is no dispute that the 13-year-old stabbed 9-year-old Michael Connor Verkerke last summer at a Kentwood playground, near Grand Rapids. But defense attorney Charles Boekeloo is arguing that the teen's awful childhood made him insane and not criminally responsible.

"I didn't whoop him all the time, only if he did something bad. ... I left the marks on him, I apologized and I never used corporal punishment again," the stepfather told jurors on the second day of the trial in Kent County court.

The Associated Press isn't naming the defendant because of his age. He was 12 at the time and is designated as an adult in the juvenile court system. That means he would be sentenced as a juvenile if convicted, then resentenced as an adult at age 21.

Social worker Sarah Benjamin said the teen tried to kill himself at the juvenile detention center while the murder case was pending. A psychiatrist told jurors that he was given medication for depression.

Prosecutors have said the teen planned to stab someone for a year and hid a knife in a sandbox.

Mental health experts are expected to testify Thursday as the trial nears an end.

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