New Castle News

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February 25, 2014

Our Opinion: After five years, Jordan Brown case continues — sadly for all

NEW CASTLE — It’s not unusual for newspapers to look back on major news events when key anniversaries come about.

So it was that the New Castle News has been running articles on the fifth anniversary of the 2009 slaying of Kenzie Houk, and the subsequent arrest of Jordan Brown for the crime.

This case — involving a young, pregnant woman who was killed in her bed and the 11-year-old son of her fiancé who was charged with the crime — was a major story in Lawrence County when it broke. In fact, it captured attention around the country and the world, mainly because of the age of the suspect and his arrest as an adult.

But the five-year retrospective in this instance is different than other old stories. Typically, these are looks into the past. The case of Jordan Brown is very much an ongoing saga, and one with no end in sight.

We have addressed this issue before. It is absolutely outrageous that five years on, Pennsylvania’s legal system is still dealing with this matter. Next month, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court will hear arguments in an appeal of a state Superior Court ruling in the case.

From there, we are not sure what will happen. The state’s highest court could confirm the Superior Court decision that overruled Lawrence County Common Pleas Court Judge John Hodge’s ruling that Jordan was responsible for the Houk shooting. If that happens, the case would return to Hodge for a rehearing.

Or the court could overturn the appeals court decision, meaning Jordan — now classified as a juvenile — would remain in state custody until he is 21.

There are perhaps other options for the Supreme Court to pursue, but how long will it take for the justices to issue a ruling? We note that it took more than four months for the Supreme Court just to decide to hear the case. That’s not an encouraging sign for a speedy resolution.

It is nothing short of appalling that an 11-year-old boy can be charged with homicide, and five years later the case is still rattling around the courts. You would hope that a sense of shame would have sunk into the commonwealth’s jurists by now, but the leisurely four months used by the Supreme Court to decide to hear the appeal in Jordan’s case tells us otherwise.

If the case winds up back in Lawrence County, we presume any proceedings again will be conducted behind closed doors, on the grounds Jordan is a juvenile and the commonwealth must protect him.

But the courts have done a tremendous disservice to Jordan Brown and Kenzie Houk, as well as their family members. Who will protect them from a legal system that operates as if it is disconnected from reality?

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