New Castle News

April 14, 2012

Teen ruled responsible for death of Kenzie Houk, baby

Nancy Lowry
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — Friday the 13th will likely have significance forever for Jordan Brown, his family and friends.

It is the day he was judged to be delinquent in the deaths of Kenzie Marie Houk, 26, and her unborn baby.

Lawrence County Judge John W. Hodge made the ruling against Jordan, 14, finding him to be responsible for first degree murder in the death of Houk and of homicide in the death of her unborn baby.

Within the next 20 days — or more if both sides agree — Hodge will announce the disposition, which is the juvenile court equivalent of a sentence.

Anthony J. Krastek, Pennsylvania senior deputy attorney general who prosecuted the case, said prior to the disposition, the county juvenile probation department will conduct testing to determine where Jordan will be placed for treatment.

The goal of the juvenile justice system is rehabilitation, unlike the adult system, where the aim is punishment.

Krastek said Jordan’s case will be reviewed every six months to determine his progress.

Under juvenile law, he must be released by his 21st birthday.

Jordan was charged following the Feb. 20, 2009, death of Houk, his father’s pregnant fiancée, as she lay in bed in the New Beaver farm house she shared with Jordan, his father Chris Brown and her two daughters, Jenessa and Adalynn.

Houk, who was eight months pregnant, died of a gunshot wound to the head. Her baby died of oxygen deprivation.

Jordan was 11 years old at the time. He has been in custody since then.

He initially was charged as an adult, but following more than two years of legal wranglings, the case was transferred to juvenile court last fall. Had the case remained in criminal court and Jordan been found guilty, he could have been sentenced to life in prison with no parole.



IF NOT JORDAN, WHO

Outlining his case, Krastek said he established that a crime had occurred and who could have done it.

“We established that a juvenile’s gun was used to kill the victim. Gunshot residue was on Jordan’s shirt and pants. The police focused on him because he was the most likely perpetrator. All other possibilities were eliminated.”

The investigation showed that Jordan perceived Houk’s daughters were treated better than he was and he was invisible, Krastek said.

“It may not have been the case, but that’s how it looked to an 11-year-old.”

Krastek said the evidence linked Jordan to the crime.

Few knew where the family lived, he noted., and there was only a half-hour window of opportunity for the killer.

Someone would have had to know where they lived, know that guns were stacked up in Jordan’s room, know that the ammunition for the guns was kept in Kenzie’s room, go into her room without waking her, get the ammunition, kill her, return the gun to Jordan’s bedroom and leave without leaving footprints or tire tracks.

Evidence presented by the defense, he said, “was not relevant.”

Krastek also said the case could have ended two years ago with the same result.

“We offered this, the defense rejected it,” he said, adding, “Jordan needs treatment. He has received nothing to this point.”



FAMILY RESPONDS

“God does answer prayers,” Kenzie’s grandmother, Dorothy Burns, said as she left the courthouse shortly after 2:30 p.m. Friday.

“This is no victory for us,” Kenzie’s father, Jack Houk, said. “We don’t feel like celebrating. But we hope now that he can get the help that he needs. He has had nothing up to this time.”

Houk said he felt himself shake and tears roll down his face as Hodge read his finding — that Jordan is responsible for the deaths of his daughter and unborn grandson.

“My heart had been pounding at 90 miles per hour,” he said. “When I heard (Hodge) it had slowed down and I knew that I would get through this.

“I hope when he comes out he’ll be a good boy. This is all that we want — and to be left alone.”

However, Houk said, he doubts justice will be served if Jordan is released by age 21. He said he would still like to see Jordan’s father jailed for leaving unsecured guns around the house.

“I never knew that had been the situation,” he said. “He had guns piled up along the wall in Jordan’s bedroom where he could get at them. But I never would have thought that he would do what he did.”

Debbie Houk, Kenzie’s mother, said “there will never be justice” for her daughter.

“He’s responsible for two lives — a 26-year-old and a baby who never drew its first breath.”

She noted Jordan will be released in five to six years, “but this will not bring my baby back. I will never be whole again.”



DISAPPOINTED

Defense attorneys Dennis Elisco and Stephen Colafella said they are disappointed in the outcome.

Elisco said the prosecution’s case was circumstantial and he did not believe it linked Jordan to the crime.

Asked if they would file an appeal, both men said it is too early to know.

They confirmed Jordan will be evaluated, placed in a juvenile treatment center and Hodge will receive an evaluation report every six months.



REACTION?

Jordan did not testify. No one in the courtroom, including his attorneys, could say what his reaction had been when Hodge read his statement.

Elisco and Colafella said their client was whisked out of the courtroom as soon as the finding was read. He has been returned to the Edmund L. Thomas Adolescent Center in Erie. Even though he spent four days this week in Lawrence County for the hearing, they said he had little time to spend with his family.

They said Jordan had been “prepared for the possibility” for the outcome that was announced.

Chris Brown also was disappointed, Elisco added.

“He’s been through a lot in the past 37 months.” He left the courthouse immediately after the finding was read.

Elisco again said prosecutors had failed to provide evidence to link Jordan to the killing of Houk and her unborn child, maintaining the police had jumped to conclusions and tried to fit evidence to Jordan, rather follow the evidence to find the true killer.

(Contact reporter Nancy Lowry at (724) 654-6651, extension 623, or email: nlowry@ncnewsonline.com)