To review New Castle News stories published throughout Jordan Brown's battle through the cou…
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court yesterday overturned the conviction of Jordan Brown.
Jordan Brown is a free man.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, by a 5-0 ruling, on Wednesday overturned the conviction Brown, 20, who at age 11 was charged with a double homicide following the shooting death of his father's pregnant fiancée Kenzie Marie Houk, 26, as she slept in the New Beaver Borough farmhouse rented by the family.
Arrested on Feb. 20, 2009, Pennsylvania state police charged Brown as an adult in the double homicide, The case was transferred to juvenile court in August 2011.
On April 13, 2012, Lawrence County Common Pleas Judge John W. Hodge, hearing the case in juvenile court, found Brown to be responsible for the deaths and sentenced the youth to a juvenile facility. Brown, who has maintained is innocence, remained in custody within the juvenile system until his release in June 2016.
In a 47- page opinion released yesterday, the justices said evidence was insufficient to support the conviction.
The double jeopardy clause of the U.S. Constitution prohibits Brown from being charged with the same crime again.
The three attorneys who most recently handled the case — Kate Burdick of the Juvenile Law center in Philadelphia, Stephen Colafella of Monaca and Dennis Elisco of New Castle — yesterday expressed joy and relief that the case is finally over and that justice has prevailed.
A press conference featuring Brown and his father, Chris Brown, may be called for later in the week.
"This has been a long time coming, nine and one-half years," Elisco said yesterday afternoon. "But we finally have justice. This was the relief we had hoped for. We are so happy. He has been exonerated at last."
Elisco said the justices saw the case as the defense team has seen it from the beginning.
"Our argument from the start was that evidence was insufficient, that no reasonable person would convict based on the evidence presented in this case." He added, "The justices did the right thing; they reversed the conviction. They didn't order a new trial, they did what we asked for. They vacated the adjudication – the conviction, reversing the juvenile court's ruling, reversed the appellate court's adjudication of delinquency They vacated the Superior Court's adjudication of delinquency and discharged everything. It's over. All over."
Elisco said he was pleased the justices' ruling had been a unanimous 5-0 ruling. "You almost never get that."
He added that the two justices who did not participate, Christine Donohue and David Wecht, had previously ruled in favor of the defense, when they served on Superior Court.
Reflecting on the time it took to get to the happy conclusion, Elisco said the hours he has invested have been worth it.
He said Brown is enrolled in college where he is studying computer science and doing well, but refused to say where.
"He has grown into a bright, confident young man who will be 21 in late August. He was robbed of his childhood."
Although the criminal proceedings are over in Pennsylvania, where the state's highest court has exonerated his client, Elisco said everything may not be quite over yet.
"I believe, I always have, that the attorney general's office and state police rushed to judgement," he said. "They investigated for eight hours then charged an 11-year-old as an adult. That was a shame."
Elisco said he is reviewing all aspects of the case. "If I find prosecutorial misconduct, we might find our way to the civil courts," he said.
Colafella said he has tried criminal cases for 23 years.
"But after thousands and thousands of criminal cases, I have never felt the way I felt after hearing that we prevailed. After nine years it is over and came to a good end," he said. "It's overwhelming. This has been a long road with a lot of legal issues and challenges but it's finally over and Jordan got the justice that he deserved."
Upon hearing of the ruling, Colafella said, he called Jordan and Chris Brown. "It was nice to call and tell them the good news. But after all the years, all the time, we were left speechless."
He, too, said Brown has grown into a good, focused, respectful young man after dealing with the case.
"He has developed courage, a lot of fortitude.
"This is the ruling we wanted. All has been discharged. He can't be charged again, can't be retried due to double jeopardy. It is finally over."
He commended the justices on their "well thought-out ruling" and said he is impressed not only with the outcome but also with the reception the defense team got when they argued before Superior Court justices on Nov. 29, 2017.
"They were prepared," he said, 'They knew the facts of the case, and were receptive to our arguments. I left the courtroom confident in what had happened and that we would get the ruling we were waiting for. I can't say that has happened often."
Burdick, vacationing with her family in North Carolina, has been involved with the case at the appellate level since 2015, but noted the Juvenile Law Center has been involved since 2009.
"The case is over," she said. "Now I hope that Jordan can move ahead and get on with his life, without this hanging over his head."
Burdick said it is sad that the legal process has been so slow.
"This underscores the need for changes in the process to be so it can be more meaningful," she said. "JB has lost his childhood but I am pleased that we got to the right resolution in this case. His name has been cleared. The court ruled the evidence was not sufficient."
Jeff Martin, retired from the Pennsylvania State Police, had been the prosecuting office in the juvenile court case. He said he was surprised by the ruling.
"I wish him well and hope he has success," Martin said of Brown.
However, he said, when he read the justices' opinion, "I don't see how they reached the conclusions they did."
Martin said he was particularly bothered by a comments about a discarded shell casing found along the fence of the property and said to be covered by snow, ice and dead leaves.
"We have photographs that show something else — no ice and snow," he said.
"They seemed to pick and choose what they wanted to consider," he said. "Their opinion includes testimony contradictory to photographic evidence. I disagree with several parts of the opinion. but I let it go as it is"