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March 29, 2012

Jordan Brown may be released; decision could come this week

NEW CASTLE — Jordan Brown could be free — even briefly — pending his day in juvenile court.

Defense attorney Dennis Elisco Wednesday asked a three-judge panel of the Pennsylvania Superior Court to release his 14-year-old client until a juvenile court hearing is scheduled.

The court promised a speedy ruling — possibly by tomorrow.

Jordan is charged with two counts of homicide following the death of his father’s pregnant fiancée, Kenzie Marie Houk, 26. She was fatally shot Feb. 20, 2009, in the New Beaver Borough farmhouse she shared with Jordan, then 11, his father and her two daughters.

Jordan, charged as an adult the next day, has been in the Edmund L. Thomas Adolescent Center in Erie since March 2, 2009.

After two and a half years of legal wrangling, the case was transferred to juvenile court Aug. 23.

A hearing was scheduled for September and Lawrence County Judge John W. Hodge ordered proceedings closed, as is traditional in juvenile court matters.

When three newspapers, including the New Castle News, appealed the closing to the state superior court, Elisco filed a motion seeking Jordan’s temporary release. That hearing was conducted Wednesday.

Elisco is asking the appeals court to order Jordan’s release, saying continued detention violates the state juvenile act. In his appeal, Elisco said that under the act, if a petition is filed alleging a child to be dependent or delinquent, the court must schedule a hearing within 10 of the filing or release the child from custody.

He said he is pleased with Wednesday’s proceedings, heard by Judges Christine L. Donohue, Anne E. Lazarus and Paula Francisco Ott.

Elisco said Ott, a juvenile court judge for 18 years, called the case “troubling.”

“She asked if he was getting treatment, schooling,” Elisco said.

Ideally, he said, the court will order Jordan to be released pending the scheduling of a hearing.

“This is what we want, but we have no guarantee that they will do this. But if Jordan is ordered released, as we hope, we will have 60 days to schedule a hearing.”

If Jordan is not ordered released, Elisco continued, a delinquency hearing must he scheduled before Hodge within 10 days.

The judges said Hodge could have held the detention hearing last month after an appeals court panel rejected the newspapers’ petition to open proceedings, Colafella noted.

“But Hodge said the appeals court had jurisdiction and he couldn’t act.”

Debbie Houk, Kenzie’s mother, said she is hopeful the case will get under way soon.

“The judges said they may hand down a ruling by Friday,” she said. “I hope they do. I see no reason not to start.”

But she doesn’t think the judges will give Elisco what he is asking.

“They said he will have 30 days to appeal their ruling,” she said. “They said if he notifies the prothonotary’s office that he will not appeal, the case won’t be held up and the hearing can be scheduled for early April.”

Senior Deputy Attorney General Anthony J. Krastek, who will prosecute the case in juvenile court, said he is prepared to proceed immediately.

“From what I understand, they intend to rule quickly and to direct us to act quickly.”

Krastek said he is prepared to do just that.

Attorney Steve Colafella of Monaca, new to the defense team, said Hodge has asked to meet Thursday with all attorneys involved in the case.

“I expect that we’ll be discussing possible scenarios,” he said. “Whenever happens, we will have options to consider.”

Colafella said he has met with Jordan in Erie.

“He’s having a hard time understanding the protracted legal wranglings but he’s coping as well as he can.

“He’s anxious. He’s just a kid.”

(Email: nlowry@ncnewsonline.com)

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