Jordan Brown Murder Case Takes Emotional Toll

Boy charged with committing murder at age 11 to be tried as an adult.

April 28, 2010, 5:15 PM

April 28, 2010— -- The killing of a young pregnant mother, allegedly by the 11-year-old boy who was about to become her stepson, has created a bitter feud between two families that were about to be happily joined through marriage.

Last year, Jordan Brown, now 12, was charged with murdering Kenzie Houk, his father's eight-and-a-half month pregnant fiancee while she was asleep. Police say Brown walked into his father's bedroom, shot his future stepmom with a hunting rifle and then boarded a bus for elementary school.

A Pennsylvania judge ruled last month that the boy will be tried as an adult. If convicted, he could become the youngest person in U.S. history to be sentenced to life in prison without parole.

"He's an average 12-year-old," said Jordan's father Chris Brown. "To try to explain to a 12-year-old what the rest of your life means it's incomprehensible for him. He doesn't appreciate the magnitude of what he's facing."

Jordan was denied the chance to stay in a juvenile facility where he would be released by the age of 21 as requested by his lawyers. The decision was the biggest setback yet for the Brown family. Brown told "Nightline" he was "heartbroken" and "sickened by the judge's ruling."

But for the family of Houk, 26, who was found shot in the head in her rural farmhouse in Western Pennsylvania in February 2009 -- just two weeks away from giving birth to her first son -- life in prison may not be as severe as losing a loved one.

"Worse thing is losing your daughter," said Houk's mother Debbie Houk. "I wake up in the middle of the night and think I'm going to have an anxiety attack knowing that I'm never seeing her again. It hurts."

It was Houk's 4-year-old daughter Adalynn who discovered her own mother's body.

"She has said to me, 'Grandma, I got up that morning, I went down to get mommy, I shook her and she wouldn't wake and she had blood on her back,'" Debbie Houk said.

The Houks gathered at the hospital to say goodbye -- not only to Kenzie Houk, but to their unborn grandson, who was to be named Christopher Jr.

"It was horrible. That little baby was perfect," Debbie Houk said. "When I spoke to the preacher ...he said to me, 'Do you realize that you actually held an angel, because we are all born into the world of sin, and this baby never was.'"

Families Grieve Separately

Each day Debbie Houk visits her daughter and grandson's grave while Chris Brown makes the four-hour round trip to visit his son in a juvenile detention center.

"Mentally, he's gotten quite an education there," Brown said of the 13-months his son has spent in the facility. "The boys and girls, the kids that he's with, they're pretty harsh kids. He's not there with the Boy Scouts. Physically he's grown 4 inches plus, and 40 pounds, close to 40 pounds. ...He has just been subjected to some awful things in the past 13 months."

Brown continues to proclaim his son's innocence.

"I know my son. I've talked to him numerous times in depth about what happened and ...if he knew anything about it, if he was involved, he would have told me by now," Brown said. "Not only that, but keep in mind, [he was] 11 years old when this happened, now 12. In the environment that he's in, a child like that is going to break down and his story has not changed from day one."

While Brown describes his son as the "happy- go-lucky" quarterback of his Pee Wee football team, members of Houk's family describe Jordan as a "troubled kid."

Houk's nephew reportedly heard Jordan make an alarming comment before the murder, which Debbie Houk says was swept under the rug.

"Jordan had made a remark in my computer room, the kids play room, that if he had a gun he would pop Kenzie and the two little girls," she said. "When it was addressed, Chris said his son would never say such a word."

When asked if Jordan had any problems in line with the Houks' comments, Brown said no.

How Young Is Too Young for Life in Prison?

The Houks and police point to overwhelming evidence they say will prove that Jordan is the killer, including gun residue found on his shirt, a fresh shell casting found outside as well as the testimony of Houk's 7-year-old daughter who says she saw Jordan with the gun.

Attorney Dennis Elisco said the evidence that will come out in trial will show that Jordan did not commit this crime.

But many argue 12 is simply too young to face the prospect of an adult sentence. Due to tough-on-crime laws, Pennsylvania has more juveniles sentenced to life in prison without parole than any other state. Kids charged with murder in Pennsylvania are automatically considered adults and only a judge's decision can move the trial to juvenile court.

"I think the judge's decision in this case is both disappointing, and I think, misinformed," said Lawrence Steinberg of Temple University. "The judge is saying in order to be tried as a juvenile you need to admit that you've done the crime. That doesn't seem quite right to me."

A child's brain isn't fully developed -- especially in area that controls decision making, risk taking and impulse control, according to Steinberg, whose research influenced a Supreme Court case banning the death penalty for juveniles in 2005.

"It's a very serious crime, but I think we have an appropriate response ... that will ... provide the kinds of services and therapies that have a good chance at rehabilitating him," he said.

For now, it's a life interrupted for Jordan, as his lawyers begin the process of appealing the judge's decision.

"The case is obviously not over," said Elisco.

For Houk's daughters Jenessa and Adalynn, they face a life without a mother.

"They are serving a life sentence and I am, I ain't got my daughter no more," Debbie Houk said. "Why should you get the things back that you had when you took so much ... you took two lives here."

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