New Castle News
NEW CASTLE —
The broken-hearted father of Jordan Brown is rebuilding his life while remaining strong for his son.
Jordan is charged in the fatal shooting five years ago of his father’s pregnant fiancée, Kenzie Houk. She was killed in the New Beaver Borough farmhouse the couple shared with Jordan, then 11, and her daughters, who were 7 and 4.
“It was so shocking it is hard to describe,” Chris Brown said of the incident and the ordeal which continues to dominate his life.
“There is still a lot of disbelief, a lot of concern, mixed feelings and emotions,” he said. “Seeing the police come in, pull your son out of bed and take him to jail is pretty disturbing.”
Now 41, Brown said his concern is for his 16-year-old son, who has been locked up for five years.
“He’s missed his childhood. My concern is to help him to get over what he’s been through.”
Brown said he hopes to see some good come from his son’s experience.
“This case could change laws and the juvenile court system,” he noted. “Without a doubt, Jordan will make a difference in the lives of other children.”
Brown was at work on Feb. 20, 2009, when he was summoned home. He was questioned by the Pennsylvania state police. Then, in the wee hours of the next morning, Jordan was arrested.
“The news media was all over Lawrence County,” he said. “There was no place that I could go.”
He said he didn’t sleep for three days, then began to have nightmares.
Brown, who for the most part has shunned media contact since his son’s arrest, pointed out limited information on details from the courtroom has become public. He believes most of what is known has come from the Houk family, who have made themselves available to the media throughout the case.
“This has shaped public perception.”
It has also frustrated him. “I no longer read newspapers or watch television accounts, which labeled Jordan as an 11-year-old murderer.”
Brown said he is heart-broken when old friends approach, ask about him and Jordan then ask, “Did he say why he did it?”
He has spoken extensively to his son, Brown said, and is convinced beyond doubt of the boy’s innocence.
“Since the start I have said, if he did it he needs help. But I’ve also said I won’t walk away from him, turn him over to the state and make him a victim of the system. He is my son.”
He added he believes others are equally convinced of Jordan’s innocence.
“After the initial shock, when people saw the newspapers and stories on television, they might have believed it, but as information came out they began to think ‘No way could he have done this. No evidence links him to what was done.’”
Still guarded about what he says regarding Jordan, Brown is knowledgeable about and has strong opinions of both the criminal and juvenile court systems and what he has identified as shortcomings.
“That a judge denied decertifying Jordan to juvenile court because he would not admit his guilt — a clear violation of his Constitutional rights — just blows my mind.”
Brown also said he believes Jordan was found delinquent — the juvenile court equivalent of guilty — on circumstantial evidence that would not have been sufficient to convict an adult.
“When the judge announced the verdict, everyone in the courtroom was shocked,.” Brown said. “I saw court people with tears running down their faces. They knew it was the wrong decision. There had been nothing that linked Jordan to the crime. Nothing. An 11-year-old can’t plan his own birthday party let alone calculate a murder.”
Brown said evidence revealed there had been no fingerprints on the shotgun that police claim is the murder weapon. A blanket, said to have been used to muffle the sound of the gun, contained no gunshot residue, no fibers from that blanket were found on the gun and a burn hole found in the blanket was determined to have been made by a cigarette.
“The only link to Jordan was they all came from the same house.”
Evidence considered by the judge included a speck of gunshot residue found on Jordan’s shirt and pants. Had Jordan fired a gun that morning, his father said, “his clothes would have been polluted with gunshot residue. But he wasn’t.”
Brown said state police checked his hands and those of another “person of interest” for gunshot residue, but Jordan’s hands were never tested for gunshot residue, nor was his coat.
“And the pants checked were not the ones he wore to school that day but a pair he changed into that had been at his grandmother’s house. He’d worn those jeans the previous weekend when he and I went to an indoor turkey shoot.”
Contrary to belief, Brown said, his guns had not been lying around the house.
“I’m a responsible father. My guns were not accessible to the children.”
His weapons — which included hunting rifles, shotguns, pistols and a muzzle-loader — were usually stored in the back of a closet in the downstairs bedroom Brown and Houk shared, he noted. None was loaded, he said, and ammunition was stored separately in an armoire drawer in the bedroom, and in a pistol safe, also in the armoire.
Brown said the couple was anticipating swapping bedrooms with Jordan, to be closer to the upstairs nursery, and some items, including the guns, had been moved a few days earlier.
He said Jordan, under his supervision, was learning to shoot. The two practiced in the yard at their farmhouse.
“I’m a hunter,” he said. “I’d estimate 80 percent of all homes in Lawrence County have multiple firearms.”
At Jordan’s preliminary hearing, state troopers testified guns had been found stacked in Jordan’s upstairs bedroom. They said one smelled as if it had been fired recently.
Another piece of evidence, a spent gun shell said to be in pristine condition, was found in the yard.
“It was 90 feet from the driveway the kids ran down to catch the school bus that morning and found under ice and snow-covered leaves,” Brown said, adding, “I don’t think I could have thrown a shell that far.”
Brown said the defense’s theory of what happened involves one of Kenzie’s former boyfriends, who had threatened her and her family members, prompting her to take out a protection from abuse order against him. Brown claimed police did not pursue that avenue.
‘THAT IS A SHAME’
In the years since the shooting, Brown said, he has tried to see Houk’s daughters, who had called him Daddy.
“I was turned down every time I asked,” he said. “I fear that early on the prosecution drove a wedge between us. I fear that is unrepairable.”
Brown said he has seen anger, hate and grief directed at his son and him.
“That is a shame. I feel they were misled.”
Within a day or two of the incident, Brown said, and without evidence to support it, police told the Houks they were 100 percent sure that Jordan had done it.
“From that moment on, they were convinced Jordan was responsible and there is no other possibility. They don’t realize that I’m a victim of this too. I lost everything.”
Although he likes Jordan’s current location, George Junior Republic in Grove City, Brown said the teen is being held back.
Jordan enjoys basketball but cannot make the school’s team because he cannot leave the campus for away games, his father noted. And for the same reason, he can’t sign up for track this spring.
“He has good grades and is not a behavioral problem. They say he’s not an escape risk and is respectful, but he remains in a restricted unit and is denied off-campus visits.”
Brown said he would love to get a pass to take his son to a movie or for an overnight visit. Other residents earn this privilege in three months, he pointed out.
“Jordan’s been there nine months and has done nothing wrong.”
“They handle him differently than other (residents). They say they’re concerned about what could happen if he comes home.”
Brown said he remains Jordan’s number one advocate.
“He’s my son. I believe in him and I believe that he is innocent.”
Brown said he was further frustrated after being told Jordan cannot leave the school because he does not have a safe home to be released to.
“They said it is a detriment to his welfare to be placed with his father, that I’m a problem,” Brown said.
“There is no evidence to support this,” he continued. “I raised Jordan on my own since he was a baby. I have provided for him, met his needs, never abused him.”
He added the department of corrections “has hired me to provide care, custody and control of adult inmates. The commonwealth trusts me but the system does not?”
Through all that has happened, Brown said, “Jordan remains cautiously optimistic that the truth will come out and the court will make the right decision and do the right thing. But we’ve had a lot of disappointments.”