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April 11, 2012

Jordan Brown’s hearing gets under way in county courtroom

NEW CASTLE — Prosecutors Tuesday began building their case against Jordan Brown.

The proceeding to determine if the 14-year-old is responsible for the death of Kenzie Houk, 26, and her unborn child is being heard by Lawrence County Judge John W. Hodge.

The adjudication hearing — what the trial process for a juvenile is called — is expected to last a week. There is no jury — a judge makes the determination — but Hodge is not expected to rule immediately.

Jordan is charged with the Feb. 20, 2009, shooting of Houk, his father’s pregnant fiancée. He was 11 years old then but charged as an adult with two counts of homicide. The case was eventually transferred to juvenile court.

If found responsible for the shooting, Jordan will be placed in treatment within the juvenile system. He could be held until he turns 21, or released sooner if he responds to treatment.

Had the case remained in criminal court and the teen been found guilty, he could have been sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole.

Jordan was at Tuesday’s proceedings, then taken out of the courthouse through the parking garage and returned to the Edmund L. Thomas Adolescent Center in Erie where he has been since March 2009.

The case is closed to the news media and most of the public. Media representatives also are being barred from the second floor of the courthouse where the hearing is taking place.

Lawrence County Sheriff Perry Quahliero said that is for “safety reasons.” He and his deputies maintained security, even asking “several bikers” outside the building to move along.

However, Hodge has allowed immediate family members representing Houk and Jordan in the courtroom.

They are Houk’s parents Jack and Deborah Houk, her sister Jennifer Kraner, Jordan’s father Chris Brown and grandmother Janice Brown Myers, and Cynthia Wiseman, Chris Brown’s aunt.

During a break, Houk family friend Brenda Mooney said she doesn’t understand why some members are allowed in but others are not. Kenzie’s grandmother would have liked to have been included, she noted.

“There is no justice,” Mooney said. “Two lives were taken. Kenzie got no second chance, her baby got no chance at all.”

At the lunch break, Jack Houk said testimony was hard to hear. One witness, a tree trimmer working on the New Beaver Borough property where Kenzie and Brown had lived with her two daughters and Jordan, broke down and cried, he said.

At the preliminary hearing, the man testified that Houk’s then-4-year-old daughter Adalynn had gone outside and said “My mommy is dead.”

“It was horrible,” Jack Houk said of the testimony.

He left the courthouse at the noon break hand-in-hand with his sister Barbara Bradley, who praised her brother and his wife for “being able to hold up.

“I don’t know how they’ve been able to do it,” she said, adding Houk and her mother had grown close and exchanged daily phone calls prior to the shooting.

Bradley added she and the rest of the family would have preferred that the hearing be open to the public.

“I just wish this was over,” she said. “I hate to see (Jack and Debbie Houk) have to deal with this all over again.”

She added there will be no winners. “Whichever way this goes people will be upset.”

When proceedings concluded just after 3 p.m., Debbie Houk said family members had been asked not to comment. She didn’t.

Senior Deputy Attorney General Anthony J. Krastek, who is prosecuting, said, “The case is going as expected.”

Krastek called nine witnesses Tuesday including a pathologist, paramedic, school bus driver and state troopers. He said he anticipates concluding his portion of the case Wednesday.

Defense attorneys Dennis Elisco and Stephen Colafella will then present their case. An attempt to reach Colafella Tuesday night was unsuccessful.

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

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