Fourteen-year-old Jordan Brown was held responsible in juvenile court Friday for killing his father's pregnant fiancee, shooting her in the head as she slept when he was just 11 years old.
In the closed-door proceeding, Lawrence County Common Pleas Judge John Hodge adjudicated Jordan delinquent of first-degree murder and criminal homicide of an unborn child in the Feb. 20, 2009, death of 26-year-old Kenzie Houk and the baby boy with whom she was eight months pregnant.
Prosecutors said Jordan shot Ms. Houk as she lay in bed in his father's New Beaver farmhouse, discarding the shell in the yard before boarding a bus to school.
Jordan's case gained international attention and was closely watched by juvenile justice advocates after he was initially charged as an adult. Jordan was held in the Lawrence County Jail for a week.
But his attorneys' appeals, ultimately reaching the state Superior Court, succeeded in moving the case to the juvenile justice system, which would permit the state to hold Jordan only until his 21st birthday if he was found delinquent.
His case was delayed again when media outlets, including the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, unsuccessfully petitioned to have his hearing open to the public.
On Friday, Judge Hodge urged family members of Ms. Houk and Jordan to stay calm and the courtroom remained quiet after the announcement, said Dennis Elisco, Jordan's attorney.
Mr. Elisco and Jordan's father, Chris Brown, hugged the boy, who now stands at 6 feet and weighs 170 pounds. Showing no emotion, he was whisked away immediately by juvenile probation officers and transported back to the Edmund L. Thomas Adolescent Detention Center in Erie, where he has spent the last three years.
Ms. Houk's family abided by the judge's instructions and remained quiet. But many, donning T-shirts in her memory, left the courthouse with their cheeks moist with tears.
"My heart quit pounding," said Kenzie's father, Jack Houk. "Tears came down my face."
But he and Debbie Houk, Kenzie Houk's mother, both stressed they were far from jubilant over the decision.
"I'm sad to think that an 11-year-old would commit such a crime," Debbie Houk said. "Nobody wins. Nobody wins."
Both said they had wished to see Jordan tried as an adult, even if a conviction meant he would spend the rest of his life in prison.
"I know people who have spent more time [incarcerated] than that for less crimes. He took two lives," she said. "The time he's going to get is not enough punishment."
The judge's determination came after three days of testimony in closed-door proceedings that concluded Thursday.
Though Jordan has steadfastly maintained his innocence, deputy attorney general Anthony J. Krastek said he argued that there was no one else who could have committed the crime.
"If it was anyone else that could have accomplished this, they would have had to ... know what time to get there, known where the guns were, which was in the boy's room, known where the ammunition was for that gun, which was in her bedroom ... and then commit the killing and accomplish all of that without leaving a single footprint or a tire track," he said. "There was the positive evidence that linked the juvenile as well as the other evidence which excluded simply everybody else."
Mr. Krastek theorized that Jordan was jealous of the attention Ms. Houk's daughters were getting and angry over the fact that he was being moved from his room to make room for the new baby.
But Mr. Elisco called Mr. Krastek's arguments "speculative" and countered that the state police investigation was insufficient. He contends that investigators never looked closely enough at Ms. Houk's ex-boyfriend Adam Harvey, against whom she had a protection from abuse order.
Police cleared Mr. Harvey after they found he had a credible alibi.
Mr. Harvey was one of three witnesses Mr. Elisco called to testify. He also called Cpl. Jeff Martin of the state police, who testified there were no fingerprints found on the gun or shell casing, nor any DNA evidence linking Jordan to the crime, according to Mr. Elisco.
"We believe that they failed to meet their burden beyond a reasonable doubt and we don't believe that Jordan is responsible for this," Mr. Elisco said.
Jordan's family could not be reached for comment, but Steve Colafella, Jordan's other attorney, said they are "frustrated."
Thursday, Jordan's father said he grieved that his son had lost so many years of his childhood.
"You have an 11-year-old child who is wrongfully accused of a double homicide of the woman who he loved as his mother, taken from his bed at 3 in the morning, placed in the Lawrence County Jail for a week with adults, then later placed at a detention [facility] for the last 37 months, all based on a theory," Mr. Brown said. "You can never get back what's been taken from him."
Mr. Elisco and Mr. Colafella, Jordan's attorneys, have not determined whether they will appeal the case. If they decline to, Jordan will face a dispositional hearing, after which the judge will determine where he will be placed and for how long. After that, he will have the opportunity to have his progress reviewed every six months to determine if he is "releasable," Mr. Elisco said.
Moriah Balingit: email@example.com, 412-263-2533 or on Twitter @MoriahBee.