crimesider

No new trial for Pa. boy convicted of murder at age 11

Jordan Brown in a 2009 mugshot

AP Photo/Lawrence County Prison via Beaver County Times

NEW CASTLE, Pa. - A Pennsylvania judge says he won't grant a new trial for Jordan Brown, a Pennsylvania boy who was convicted of killing his father's pregnant fiancee when he was just 11 and insists he is innocent.

Brown's defense lawyers have argued for years for the boy's conviction to be thrown out on the grounds that the evidence used to convict him at trial was insufficient.

The defense asked that Brown, now 17, be given a new trial. In a 50-page ruling issued Wednesday, Lawrence County, Pa. Judge John Hodge - the judge who initially found Brown guilty in April 2012 - denied that request.

Brown's lawyers have said they will appeal.

Kenzie Houk
MySpace

Brown was accused in 2009 at the age of 11 of fatally shooting his father's pregnant fiancee, 26-year-old Kenzie Houk, in the Wampum, Pa. home where she lived with the boy, his father and her two young daughters.

Brown was arrested less than 24 hours after the crime and was initially charged as an adult with two counts of first-degree murder. Houk's unborn child also did not survive the shooting.

The case garnered national attention -- if tried and convicted, Brown would have become the youngest person in United States history to face life in prison without the possibility of parole.

After some legal wrangling, Brown's defense attorneys successfully argued to transfer the case to juvenile court, where Judge Hodge adjudicated him delinquent following a bench trial and ordered him to reside in a juvenile residential treatment facility until the age of 21.

Brown and his attorneys ultimately appealed the conviction to the Pennsylvania Superior Court and in May 2013, his conviction was overturned on the grounds that "the juvenile court committed a palpable abuse of discretion in rendering a ruling that is plainly contrary to the evidence."

The farmhouse in Wampum, Pa. where Kenzie Houk was killed.
Keith Srakocic, ASSOCIATED PRESS

The prosecution then appealed the Superior Court's ruling, pushing the case up the ladder to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. In December 2014, the state's high court vacated the ruling that had overturned Brown's conviction. Instead, the Supreme Court remanded the case back to juvenile court and Judge Hodge -- where Brown was given the opportunity to argue for a new trial and/or acquittal.

Dennis Elisco, one of Brown's defense attorneys, previously told 48 Hours' Crimesider that he was displeased that Judge Hodge was tasked with the decision as to whether Brown should be granted a new trial. He worried there would be a conflict of interest since Judge Hodge initially found the boy guilty and that decision was the one under appeal.

Brown has always maintained his innocence, but police and prosecutors have been adamant that the boy took his 20-guage, youth-model shotgun, which he used to go hunting with his father, and killed Houk moments before he got on the bus to head to school.

Investigators suggested at trial that Brown was jealous of Houk's unborn son, who died of oxygen deprivation after she was shot execution-style. Houk was more than eight months pregnant at the time.

Brown was arrested less than 24 hours after the murder, but appellate court rulings have raised questions as to whether it was an open-and-shut case.

The evidence against Brown appears compelling, although it is mostly circumstantial.

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