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April 4, 2012

Judge says no to releasing Jordan Brown; hearing set for Tuesday

NEW CASTLE — Jordan Brown will not be released.

Lawrence County Judge John W. Hodge Tuesday rejected arguments of defense attorney Dennis Elisco to release the boy pending his hearing. Hodge set Tuesday as the hearing date.

As a result, the 14-year-old will remain in the Edmund L. Thomas Adolescent Center in Erie. He has been there since March 2, 2009.

Jordan is charged with two counts of homicide in the shooting of his father’s pregnant fiancée, Kenzie Marie Houk, 26, on Feb. 20, 2009. He was 11 at the time.

In a closed courtroom with only attorneys, three witnesses and both sides’ immediate family, the judge considered Elisco’s arguments to free Jordan and those of senior deputy attorney general Anthony J. Krastek to keep him in custody pending his juvenile hearing.

Jordan also was in the courtroom.

His attorneys, Elisco and Stephen Colafella of Beaver County, maintain his three years in custody is in violation to his constitutional right to a speedy trial, and contrary to Pennsylvania’s Juvenile Act, which requires the equivalent to a trial to be conducted within 10 days of a petition being filed against a child.

Jordan originally was charged as an adult. After years of legal wrangling, his case was transferred to juvenile court on Aug. 23. A hearing before Hodge was scheduled for Sept. 27, but on Sept. 15, the judge excluded the news media and public from the proceedings. The New Castle News and two other newspapers petitioned to open the hearings, which Hodge denied. They appealed to the Pennsylvania Superior Court, which ruled Feb. 22 the proceedings would be closed.

Tuesday, Houk’s mother Debbie Houk said she had anticipated being called as a witness, but was not. She said the witnesses were two juvenile probation officers and David Acker, Jordan’s former defense attorney.

She said Acker testified that after the case was sent to juvenile court, the defense waived Jordan’s detention hearing.

Under the juvenile law, detention hearings are conducted within 72 hours of a child being taken into custody. They are to determine if the juvenile will remain in custody. At the time, Acker said the defense had waived the hearing because of the seriousness of the offense.

Houk also said Jordan is expected to be housed in the Lawrence County jail during next week’s trial.

Tuesday’s hour-long hearing was in Courtroom No. 1. News media gathered were barred from the second floor where the courtrooms are.

Lawrence County Sheriff Perry Quahliero, who stood at the top of the stairs, said he was trying to maintain order and was concerned members of the Houk and Brown families would become emotional if questioned by the media.

After the session, Colafella said the hearing was to resolve the question of Jordan’s detention.

“He’s been detained way too long.”

Colafella said the defense requested Jordan’s immediate release to the custody of his father, Chris Brown.

Noting Jordan is now well over 6 feet tall, he said, “He’s grown physically, but not emotionally, due to where he is.

“His situation is complicated, unusual and unfortunate.”

The Erie facility, Colafella said, is a temporary holding center.

“While he is safe there, he hasn’t received counseling and teaching that he’s needed and hasn’t forged relationships.

“We need to get something going. We are prepared to go to trial.”

Colafella said he will handle Tuesday’s hearing.

He said no testimony regarding Jordan’s alleged responsibility in the shooting was given Tuesday, adding both sides are anticipating a quick resolution.

Because Jordan was ordered to remain in custody, Colafella explained, the hearing had to be scheduled within 10 days.

“We — both sides — were ready to go in September,” he said. “Then the news media intervened. We hadn’t anticipated that would delay things for six months.”


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