New Castle News

TOP STORIES

February 24, 2014

Jordan Brown Case, Five Years Later: After half a decade, intrigue and questions remain

NEW CASTLE — Unusual aspects of Jordan Brown’s case drew national and international attention.

Now 16, Jordan was 11 when he was charged as an adult with two counts of homicide in the fatal shooting of his father’s pregnant fiancée, Kenzie Marie Houk, 26.

Houk died Feb. 20, 2009, in the New Beaver Borough farmhouse she shared with Jordan and his father, Chris, and her daughters, then 4 and 7.

What made the story stand out was the age of the alleged shooter. Other factors included the presence of and access to guns and ammunition in the household and Pennsylvania law — which required that the suspect be charged as an adult.

With this action came the potential of the child being sentenced to life in jail without the possibility of parole, if he were to be convicted of the killings. Had this happened, he would have been the youngest person in the nation to face such a penalty.

After Lawrence County President Judge Dominick Motto denied the defense petition to move the case to juvenile court, Amnesty International weighed in.

Jordan’s lawyers and father were interviewed by TV psychologist Dr. Phil McGraw, Bill O’Reilly of Fox News, Good Morning America and news media from across the United States as well as London, Paris, Istanbul, Turkey, and Damascus, Syria.

The case garnered a page on Wikipedia, the Internet encyclopedia. AOL and other Internet sites have tracked progress of the case.

Motto’s decision to keep the case in criminal court also resulted in the involvement of the Philadelphia-based Juvenile Law Center.

“They don’t take on a lot of cases and their involvement has lightened our steps on this journey,” defense attorney Dennis Elisco said.

One contentious aspect early in the case was the life in prison without the possibility of parole requirement upon conviction.

This ceased to be a concern when the case was moved to juvenile court. In Pennsylvania, a conviction in juvenile court could result in a sentence no longer than “juvenile life,” meaning Jordan could not be held past his 21st birthday.

Jordan has been in custody since the day after the shooting. It was more than three years later — April 13, 2012 — that he was found responsible for the deaths — the juvenile justice system’s equivalent of a guilty verdict.

The conviction, Elisco said, was based on circumstantial evidence, including the presence of two specks of gunshot residue on Jordan’s clothing. One speck was found on the thigh of his jeans, the second on the chest of his shirt.

He said this caused the court to conclude that Jordan had fired a gun that morning.

Elisco noted the prosecution has consistently said the 20-gauge shotgun found in the home is the murder weapon.

The position of the defense, he continued, is that a small caliber handgun, not a shotgun, was used in the shooting. If a shotgun had been used, he said, gunshot residue would have been found in the carpet and would have covered Jordan’s clothing to a greater degree.

Elisco said even the prosecution’s expert witness “could not say with any certainty” where the residue had come from.

In fact, he continued, the presence of the small amount of residue could be explained by Jordan’s presence at a recent turkey shoot.

A like-new shell casing — said to have been tossed by Jordan on his way to the school bus and found about 100 feet away from the path to the bus — yielded no fingerprints or DNA linking it to Jordan, Elisco said.

Jordan’s fingerprints were not found on the gun the prosecution claims was used, he added, and no time of death ever has been established.

“When the police considered the autopsy, forensic and ballistics tests and gunshot residue evidence, they should have concluded Jordan was not guilty.”

In addition, no tracks — other than those made by Jordan and one of Houk’s daughters headed for the school bus — were found outside the house.

Anthony Krastek, Pennsylvania senior deputy attorney general who prosecuted the case, contends Houk was shot with a 20-gauge shotgun found in the house. That gun was said to have been a gift to Jordan from his father.

“The police focused on (Jordan) because he was the most likely perpetrator. All other possibilities were eliminated,” Krastek said in April 2012 while outlining the case he had presented before Lawrence County Judge John W. Hodge.

At the time, Krastek said the investigation showed that Jordan had perceived Houk’s daughters were treated better than he was and he was invisible.

“It may not have been the case, but that’s how it looked to an 11-year-old.”

Krastek also said then that the evidence linked Jordan to the crime. He noted that few people knew where the family lived and there was only a half-hour window of opportunity for the killer.

Someone would have had to know where they lived, know that guns were in Jordan’s room, know that the ammunition for the guns was kept in Houk’s room, go into her room without waking her, get the ammunition, kill her, return the gun to Jordan’s bedroom and leave without leaving footprints or tire tracks, he said.

On May 8, 2013, the Pennsylvania Superior Court overturned Hodge’s determination that Jordan was responsible for the deaths. It ordered the case back to Lawrence County.

The prosecution appealed that ruling to Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court, which is scheduled to hear arguments March 12 in Philadelphia.

Elisco said the justices will be considering two issues raised by the prosecution.

“They say we waived any challenge of evidence because we did not file an immediate post-trial motion for a new trial so we can’t challenge it now. We contend there is nothing in juvenile court law that says we had to file such a motion.

“The second issue is that the evidence was adequate to support the conviction.”

Elisco said the Juvenile Law Center will argue the technical points and he will argue that the evidence did not support the conviction.

“I feel the Supreme Court will rule in our favor.”

If that happens, the case will be returned to Lawrence County for retrial or the charges will be dismissed.

Elisco said he believes the commonwealth will retry the case.

He appears to be correct. Last week, Krastek said he remains up to date with the case and ready to continue if he’s needed.

(Email: nlowry@ncnewsonline.com)

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
TOP STORIES
  • DougDanko.jpg Census shows county population getting older

    Lawrence County’s population continues to get older. However, it is not alone, as Pennsylvania overall is aging.

    July 30, 2014 1 Photo

  • backpackproject.jpg Councilman picks up tab to help lunch program

    Participants of a local summer feeding program are eating this week courtesy of New Castle City Councilman Tim Fulkerson. On Friday morning, the truck dispatched from New Castle to pick up about 3,500 pounds of items from the Pittsburgh Food Bank broke down as it arrived at its destination.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • CRESTVIEW.jpg Outreach: Churches plan to host picnic for residents of Crestview Gardens

    Volunteers from several area churches are banding together in hopes of bringing peace to a troubled neighborhood.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • money.jpg Council OKs funds to remove dead trees

    New Castle City Council has approved spending funds from its contingency account to remove some trees at Darlington Park. Marshall Tree Experts of Ellwood City has given an estimate of $12,000 to remove the large elm trees from the Mahoningtown park.

     
     

    July 26, 2014 1 Photo

  • 12.jpg Photo Gallery, Story: Night light

    The balloons may have been on the ground but spirits were soaring.

     

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo 1 Slideshow

  • StateFair.jpg 'State Fair' coming to Playhouse

    The fair is coming to town. No, not the Lawrence County Fair, although that is right around the corner. This is the Iowa State Fair, and it will be live on the stage of the New Castle Playhouse for three weeks, starting Friday night.

    July 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • accountant.jpg DeLorenzo’s status with authority unchanged

    Deno DeLorenzo’s status as a contract employee with the New Castle Sanitation Authority remains unchanged. Authority board members met with DeLorenzo last week regarding an investigation by the Lawrence County district attorney’s office involving Shenango Township funds.

    July 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Shooting.jpg Detroit area man dies in Ellwood City gunfire

    A triple shooting in an Ellwood City street has claimed the life of a Detroit area man. Gunfire erupted in the middle of Loop Street outside the Walnut Ridge housing project around 10:20 p.m. Sunday, according to state police.

    July 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Baptism1.jpg Dipped downtown

    John the Baptist identified himself as “the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’ ” On Saturday, local evangelist Randy Crum once again took a cue from the son of Elizabeth and Zechariah, eschewing the locusts and honey that John was known to munch on but heading out into the wilds to baptize believers and challenge them to share their faith with their community.

    July 21, 2014 3 Photos

  • lamancusa.jpg Tanner, district attorney: No comment

    The Lawrence County District Attorney is keeping mum about a probe into finances in Shenango Township. “We don’t talk about ongoing investigations,” Lamancusa said Friday.

    July 19, 2014 1 Photo 5 Stories

House Ads
Poll

Do you talk to yourself when you're alone?

Yes, but I’m basically just thinking out loud.
No, that would be weird.
I don’t know. Next time I’m alone, I’ll ask.
     View Results