New Castle News

January 19, 2012

Jordan Brown case grows more confusing amid appeals

By Staff
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — The Jordan Brown case continues to demonstrate the distorted logic of how Pennsylvania handles juvenile homicide suspects.

Attorneys for the now-14-year-old-boy are petitioning the courts for his release, arguing his juvenile trial was not conducted in timely fashion. The matter is now on appeal.

So too is an effort by the New Castle News and two Pittsburgh newspapers to keep Jordan’s juvenile proceedings open to the public. The entire case has the look of a tangled mess.

And it all began because Pennsylvania law requires that juveniles who are accused of homicide automatically must be charged as adults. That’s what happened in February 2009, when Jordan — 11 at the time — was accused in the shooting death of Kenzie Houk, his father’s pregnant fiancée.

Shortly after the shooting, state police charged Jordan with two counts of homicide. That began a long and highly publicized legal journey that culminated last August in a local court decision declaring that Jordan’s case be transferred to juvenile court.

But by that point, the matter long had been the source of intense public scrutiny. And when Common Pleas Court Judge John Hodge proceeded with plans to close Jordan’s juvenile trial to the press and public, The News and the other newspapers objected, arguing the full story of the case needed to be told.

Last week, Pennsylvania’s Superior Court conducted a hearing on appeals of Hodge’s order. A ruling is now awaited.

Meanwhile, attorneys Dennis Elisco and Stephen Colafella, who represent Jordan, have their own appeal of a Hodge decision before the Superior Court. It involves Hodge’s refusal to release Jordan from the Erie detention facility where he has been housed for more than two years.

Elisco and Colafella cite state law that requires juvenile hearings to be conducted within 10 days of the filing of petitions against the child. That deadline was missed in Jordan’s case because the newspapers appealed Hodge’s decision to keep proceedings closed.

It is understandable a judge would not want to release a homicide suspect. It is also understandable Jordan’s attorneys want to protect his rights under the law.

Jordan has been in government custody for nearly three years now. But because there has been no decision regarding his guilt or innocence, he is merely held and educated. There is no treatment normally accorded juveniles who are ruled accountable for crimes.

It is unfortunate these appeals are delaying a final decision in Jordan’s case. But they are an outgrowth of state law.

We continue to argue that the Jordan Brown case shows a need to alter the law regarding juveniles and homicides.