GRAND RAPIDS, MI -- In the nearly six years he’s spent at a Muskegon County juvenile lockup, Maxwell Hilton by all accounts has been a model resident.
“I’m not aware of one behavioral issue that he’s had in the last five years there,” said his attorney, Charles Boekeloo, during a final sentencing hearing for Hilton.
Hilton was ordered into the Evart Youth Academy in November 2015 at age 15 after repeatedly stabbing his 13-year-old sister in a knife attack. She recovered from those injuries.
He pleaded guilty to attempted murder and, under a “blended” sentence program designed for serious juvenile crimes, was to be issued a final sentence just before turning 21.
That final sentence came this week before Judge Paul Denenfeld, who conceivably could have sent Hilton to adult prison had he misbehaved at the juvenile facility.
Instead, Denenfeld ordered Hilton to be released March 1 from detention and placed on five years of probation.
“Maxwell has conducted himself in a first-class fashion, after having engaged in a crime that obviously never should have happened. He appears to not just have flourished but become an integral part of the Evart Youth Academy community,” Denenfeld said during the sentencing, streamed on YouTube because of COVID-19 safety protocols.
Hilton has done so well with schooling, that he is expected to earn a bachelor’s degree in late March from the University of Phoenix.
His sister has supported him along the way and did so again at Wednesday’s sentencing. She and her brother had a “clarification” session long ago to go over what happened in 2015.
“Ever since we had that, everything has gone so good for us,” the teen said. “We have a really good relationship.
“There are people that can take the path to screw up and he didn’t do that,” she said.
The decision to release Maxwell Hilton on March 1 came through a mutual agreement between Kent County prosecutors, Boekeloo and others.
Hilton spoke briefly at Wednesday’s hearing.
“I just wanted to say thank you to all of the people who have helped me along the way. I especially want to say thank you and sorry to my sister because I know I put her through a lot and she stood with me through this and I know she never had to.
“I appreciate her very much for that and I’m glad that she’s my sister,” he said.
Hilton plans to live with his grandmother when released.
At Evart Youth Academy, Hilton became friends with two other detainees with high-profile cases -- Jamarion Lawhorn and Jared Seagraves. Lawhorn was 12 when he fatally stabbed Connor Verkerke, 9, on a Kentwood playground in August 2014. Seagraves was 14 when he shot and killed his sister’s boyfriend, Michael Haminger, in 2012 in Walker.
As a special exception to his probation, Denenfeld said he will allow Hilton to have contact with Lawhorn and Seagraves after he’s released. Lawhorn could be released from the youth facility as early as March and Seagraves was released in April 2019.
Denenfeld said Hilton has shown genuine remorse for what happened and fully accepted responsibility for his behavior.
“I would call his performance at Evart Academy to be extraordinary. That is very impressive,” he said.
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