Kenzie Houk and her unborn child were murdered as she slept in her Lawrence County home on February 21, 2009.
Five years later, the son of Kenzie’s boyfriend remains in juvenile detention. Jordan Brown has been accused and convicted of killing Kenzie and his conviction has been overturned.
Brown’s case has been appealed to the Superior Court twice and is scheduled to be argued before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in Philadelphia next week.
Brown was 11 years old when he was charged with murder. He was charged as an adult pursuant to Pennsylvania law. Brown faced life in prison without the possibility of parole, possibly the youngest person in the United States ever to face such a sentence.
Brown's attorneys requested that his case be decertified from adult court to juvenile court. In 2010, Lawrence County Common Pleas Judge Dominick Motto ruled that Brown's case should remain in adult court.
Motto based his findings, in part, on the fact that without accepting responsibility for Houk's death Brown would not be amenable to rehabilitation as set forth in the Juvenile Act.
Attorneys for Brown appealed Motto’s decision. The Superior Court overturned the decision and ordered a second hearing to determine whether Brown should be tried as a juvenile or an adult.
"By finding that Appellant (Brown) had to admit guilt or accept responsibility for his actions as a condition to proving that he was amendable for treatment, the trial court placed Appellant in a situation that needlessly encouraged Appellant to sacrifice his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination," the Superior Court said.
Judge Motto heard the decertification issue for a second time and remanded the case to juvenile court.
In April of 2012, following a closed-door proceeding, Lawrence County Judge John Hodge adjudicated Jordan delinquent of first-degree murder and criminal homicide of an unborn child.
The case then made its way back to the Superior Court.
On May 8, 2013, the Superior Court overturned the 2012 delinquency ruling by Hodge. In reviewing the record, the Superior Court took exception to Hodge’s determination of the evidence. The Court concluded that Hodge had “committed a palpable abuse of discretion in rendering a ruling that is plainly contrary to the evidence.”
Specifically, the court ruled the Hodge did not give enough weight to arguments someone else could have entered the house and committed the crime.
Deputy attorney general Anthony J. Krastek said after the hearing, "If it was anyone else that could have accomplished this, they would have had to ... know what time to get there, known where the guns were, which was in the boy's room, known where the ammunition was for that gun, which was in her bedroom ... and then commit the killing and accomplish all of that without leaving a single footprint or a tire track."
Now, the Attorney General’s office is asking the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to overturn the Superior Court’s ruling and reinstate Hodge’s finding of delinquency.
(Image: Jordan Brown in 2009. Lawrence County Prison via AFP/Getty Images)
Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George, P.C. He is the former district attorney of Lawrence County and just completed a six year term on the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole. His weekly column on crime and punishment is syndicated by GateHouse New Service. You can read his musings on the criminal justice system at www.mattmangino.com and follow Matt on Twitter @MatthewTMangino. His book The Executioner's Toll, 2010 is due out this summer.