Court Upholds Second Chance at Justice for Pennsylvania Youth

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Pennsylvania Superior Court’s recent ruling vacating a lower court’s decision, may just grant Jordan Brown, the Pennsylvania 12 year old convicted of murdering his father’s fiancée and her unborn child, a desperately needed second chance at justice.

The May 2013 decision, which reversed the delinquency (guilty) conviction, has been upheld as of July 25, against petition to reargue the case from the Pennsylvania Attorney General, Kathleen Kane.

The Superior Court ruling reversed the decision of Juvenile Judge John Hodges, of Lawrence County Pennsylvania, stating “the juvenile court committed a palpable abuse of discretion in rendering a ruling that is plainly contrary to the evidence”

According to Pennsylvania law, in the event of a homicide the person, no matter the age, must be charged with murder. In this case, the death of the unborn child, resulting from the death of the mother, the predicate act, mandated the second homicide charge.

Brown, who at age 11, received a youth model 20 gauge shotgun as a gift, reportedly shot Kenzi Marie Houk, 26, on February 20, 2009, at point blank range, while she slept in the family home. Her unborn child died of oxygen deprivation.

After Brown’s arrest Judge Dominick Motto, ruled the then 11 year old should be tried as an adult. This decision was overturned on appeal, and the case was then remanded to Juvenile Judge John Hodges.

On Friday, April 13, 2012, after three days of testimony and four years after the murders, Jordan Brown was found, delinquent, essentially guilty and singularly responsible, under Pennsylvania law for the death of Hock and her unborn child. Initially, Brown had been sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

According to Pennsylvania Firearms law, the minimum age to possess a firearm is 18. The law holds two exceptions that being “under supervision of a parent, grandparent, legal guardian, or an adult acting with the expressed consent of the minor’s parent or legal guardian and involved in lawful activity.” The second exception is if “the minor is lawfully involved in hunting or trapping activities.”

Brown was unsupervised, under 18, not involved in hunting and trapping and it was unclear if the firearm was registered. The weapon was not safely stored, out of reach from him and other minors in the home.  As the juvenile preceding was closed and sealed, the mental state, at the time, and condition of the then 11 year was never questioned or revealed.

Brown had been in custody throughout the entire four years, leading up to trial, violating his Sixth Amendment rights to a speedy and public trial.  

The case, which gathered international media attention, was championed by the international watchdog agency Amnesty International who stated, “The USA and Somalia are the only countries in the world that have not ratified the UN Convention in the Rights of the Child which prohibits life imprisonment without the possibility of release for crimes committed before the age of eighteen.”

Susan Lee, Amnesty International’s director for the Americas also added, “Putting a child as young as Jordan Brown as risk of life in prison with no chance of parole is inconsistent with international human rights obligation.”

After years of legal maneuvering and despite the rapidly changing legal horizon Jordan Brown, now 16, remains in a juvenile facility.

 

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