New Castle News

February 25, 2012

New Castle News won’t appeal Jordan Brown ruling

Nancy Lowry
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — The New Castle News will not appeal the ruling that bars media and the public from Jordan Brown’s juvenile hearings.

The Pennsylvania Superior Court on Wednesday rejected appeals by three newspapers, including The News, and ruled that future proceedings in juvenile court will be closed to the public in order to protect the youth’s privacy.

The newspapers had contended that after three years of pretrial publicity, the details of the case were already well publicized.

Jordan, 14, is charged in the Feb. 20, 2009, shooting death of his father’s pregnant fiancee, Kenzie Marie Houk, 26. She was shot in the New Beaver Borough farmhouse she and her two daughters shared with Jordan and his father, Chris Brown.

Jordan was 11 years old when the incident occurred and was initially charged as an adult. The case was transferred to juvenile court in August.

On Sept. 23, Judge John W. Hodge ruled that the proceedings would be closed to the general public and news media.

The three newspapers appealed that decision, arguing their cases on Jan. 10.



RESPECT COURT DECISION

"While we respect the court's decision, we continue to believe the public and the press, as the readers’ representative, has a right to attend Jordan Brown's juvenile proceedings," said Lawrence Corvi, publisher of The News. “More than that, we believe this newspaper has a duty to report all aspects of this extremely important case. We are sorry that this will not be possible.

“Although we could have sought an appeal of the Superior Court's decision, we concluded this was not in the interest of the parties involved.”

Corvi noted, "An appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court would be a lengthy process. If the court agreed to hear our appeal, it could delay the proceedings in the Jordan Brown case by approximately two years. This would be extremely unfair and burdensome to the families involved and their desire to come to a conclusion.”

Corvi said it is unfortunate that Pennsylvania's legal system took 2 1/2 years to decide that Jordan Brown's case should be handled as a juvenile matter.

“In the end, we decided it would be a mistake to prolong this pain and contribute further to a fundamental injustice inflicted on all the parties."

Corvi said he hopes that Pennsylvania's courts and legislature will examine the case in more detail and recognize that the state needs a better method of dealing with children charged with serious crimes.

News attorney James Manolis said he discussed the case with attorneys for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Tribune-Review, the other two appellants.

 He said all agreed, “there is not much chance” of success.

If an appeal is made, he said, “We would have to petition the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to allow us to appeal. There is a less than a 5 percent chance they would grant our request.”

Manolis added that the probability of reversing the Superior Court’s ruling is even slimmer, and everything would take time.

“Further delays would not be in the best interests of the families of the victim and juvenile.”

Manolis said he was disappointed in the outcome and the way the court analyzed arguments before it.

“The court relied on the statute, which protects the privacy of a juvenile under age 12,” he said. “We respect their decision, but there is a constitutional guarantee that court proceedings be open to the public.”

In this case, he said, where the accused is close to age 12 and will be 14 by the time an adjudication hearing is held, when he is charged in “an execution-style” double homicide of a woman and her fetus and where there has been intense media coverage, “It seems this is a clear-cut case of when proceedings should be open.”



DEFENSE POSITION

Hearing there will be no appeal, defense attorney Dennis Elisco said, “It’s their choice, but if there is no appeal, it appears that we’ll go to trial sooner rather than later.”

He said he, co-defense counsel Stephen Colafella and prosecutor senior deputy Attorney General Anthony Krastek expect to meet next week with Hodge to address pre-hearing matters.

Meanwhile, a scheduled March 28 argument before the Superior Court, where he planned to argue that Jordan be released pending a hearing, “may now be moot.”

Elisco said the superior Court will hold records for 30 days to determine if an appeal will be filed.

“If there is no appeal, the record could be released by March 23.

“At that time, a hearing could be scheduled and we will proceed,” he said.

(In the Weekend edition of The News: Kenzie Houk’s mother said she has mixed feelings about the New Castle News’ decision to not appeal a ruling that bars the media and the public from Jordan Brown’s juvenile hearings.)