Part II or III
Part II: A Child or an Adult?
In Pennsylvania, the law requires a child age 10 or older who accused of a crime as serious as homicide to be charged as an adult. An attorney may file to ask that the case be transferred to juvenile court, thus ensuring that the child will be sentenced as a juvenile and processed in the juvenile criminal justice system. However, the juvenile is at the mercy of the court when this happens because their request for decertification may be denied.
By February 21st, 2009, Jordan Brown was incarcerated within the Lawrence County Jail in New Castle, PA. The jail was built to accommodate approximately 300 adult inmates of various classifications. However, upon Jordan’s arrival, the warden expressed concern about the jail’s lack of resources to handle the boy’s stay at the facility. The Pittsburgh Post reported that the warden, Charles Adamo, wanted Jordan moved from the facility. He was quoted by the paper as saying, “I've got to keep him in isolation. He has to be checked constantly. But he's also got the right to be able to get out for a bit. He's got the right to a shower. It's really tough.”
The problem with housing Jordan at an adult jail facility was two-fold. First, the jail did not have clothing small enough to fit a child of Jordan’s size. Second, Jordan could only see his attorney while he was incarcerated at the jail because the county could not risk allowing him to have contact with other adult inmates as would inevitably happen if he were allowed visits. For this reason, he was not allowed to visit with his father or any other members of his family.
Jordan was arrested on a Friday which meant that he had to endure these conditions through the weekend until his attorney, Dennis Elisco, could file a request to have him moved out of the county jail and into a place equipped to handle minors. The request was filed on Monday, February 23rd, 2009. The following day, a judge ordered that Jordan be moved from the county jail to a juvenile facility called Allencrest Juvenile Detention Center in Beaver, PA. Jordan’s attorneys were informed that even though Jordan was charged as an adult the law allowed him to be housed in a juvenile facility.
Jordan was not moved on Tuesday, however. He was transported from the county jail to the Allencrest Juvenile Detention Center on the morning of February 25th, 2009 – a Wednesday. By all accounts, Jordan seemed to be doing fairly well in the new placement, but then on March 2nd, 2009, the Associated Press reported that Jordan had again been moved to a new location. This time he was placed in the Edmund L. Thomas Adolescent Detention Center. The move reportedly took place to save the county money as it cost $4,500 a week to keep Jordan at Allencrest compared with $1,680 a week at the Edmund L. Thomas facility. This was Jordan’s third disruption in just over a week’s time.
On March 24th, 2009, the preliminary hearing for Jordan Brown took place. The Pittsburgh Post described district attorney John Bongivengo as proclaiming the gunshot residue found on Jordan’s clothes as being the state’s strongest evidence against the boy. This was somewhat ironic in light of the fact that the prosecutor called Kenzie Houk’s father, Jack Houk, to testify that Jordan was a “good shot”. Though this was further evidence that Jordan was an experienced shooter and had reason to have residue on his clothing, no one really questioned the contradictory value of Jack Houk’s testimony.
Several troopers were called to testify on behalf of the prosecution. Trooper Andrew Pannelle described opening the shotgun found in Jordan’s bedroom and observing that it smelled as though it had been fired recently. Trooper Troy Steinheiser testified about the residue found on Jordan’s shirt and also on a pair of pants taken from Jordan’s home the evening of the murders. Finally, Trooper Janice Wilson testified about her role in the investigation. She described how Jordan told her about the black pickup truck and how his story changed. She admitted that when she asked Jordan about the guns found in his bedroom he told her that he was in the habit of shooting the 20-guage shotgun on the family’s property with his father.
Jordan’s attorneys expressed surprise following the preliminary hearings. They felt that the forensic evidence presented was lacking and hoped to see more definitive evidence in the near future. None of the legal briefings or media reports pertaining to the preliminary hearing indicated whether investigators ever tested Jordan’s hands for gunshot residue. Had they performed this test, and had it come back positive, it is likely the results would have been shared during the preliminary hearing. However, no evidence of this magnitude was presented as Bongivengo admitted his best evidence against Jordan was gunshot residue on a boy who told police he shot guns with his father as a hobby.
Based on the testimony presented at the preliminary hearing, District Magistrate David Rishel ordered Jordan to stand trial for the murder of Kenzie Houk and her unborn son beginning in May of 2009. On May 6th, 2009, Jordan was arraigned and charged with one count of first-degree criminal homicide for Kenzie’s murder. He was also charged with one count of first-degree criminal homicide of an unborn child. He pled not guilty to both charged, maintaining he was not involved in the murders in any way.
Jordan’s lawyers appealed the court’s decision that Jordan be tried as an adult. One of the inherent problems with the decision was that it emphasized that the court did not feel Jordan was amenable to rehabilitation. The decision made a statement to the effect that it was not rendered based on the fact that Jordan had not confessed; however, this conclusion is difficult to surpass due in part to the focus experts placed on the boy’s refusal to confess to the murders or accept responsibility.
Decertification to juvenile court is not incumbent on a child’s confession to a crime, and in this case the prosecution had woefully weak evidence proving Jordan committed any crime; in fact, a number of experts evaluated Jordan and described him as respectful, amenable to treatment, and a prime candidate for rehabilitation despite his not having confessed to the murders. However, more than a year later on March 29, 2010, the judge denied the request to have the case transferred to juvenile court. He provided an explanation that suggested he did not feel Jordan could be rehabilitated in general, though he was claiming it had nothing to do with Jordan's lack of confession. It was confusing and illogical.
Jordan’s attorneys were stunned by the news. Their client was essentially being asked to confess to a crime he had pled not guilty to be considered for a case transfer to juvenile court – a transfer the attorneys might not even get. The prosecution had not presented a single piece of evidence that directly connected Jordan to the murders and as time progressed some disturbing questions about another person in Kenzie’s life were beginning to emerge. It was beginning to appear as though there had been a troubling rush to judgment, but the wheels of justice are infamously difficult to stop once they have been set in motion. For Jordan Brown, this old adage has proven tragically true and accurate.
Continued in Part III.
Jordan Brown Information and Discussion Forum:
Article describing Jordan’s transfer to the juvenile facility on February 25th, 2009:
Article describing his move to the new facility on March 2nd, 2009 and description of county cost-savings:
Judge’s decision not to allow the case to be tried in juvenile court (description of reasoning included):
Information pertaining to the evidence presented at the preliminary trial, testimony by Jack Houk, comments made by Bongivengo, and the troopers’ testimony:
Quote from the Lawrence County Jail warden and other related information: