Jordan Brown’s legal situation is one of the more complicated criminal cases to be heard in Pennsylvania… well, ever. And things will continue to get interesting today.
As the Associated Press noted this morning: “A Superior Court panel in Pittsburgh must decide whether a boy who was 11 at the time should be tried as an adult in the slaying of his father’s pregnant fiancee.”
Which deserves some added information:
In February 2009, when Jordan was 11, his father’s girlfriend, Kenzie Houk, was found murdered — shot in the head with a shotgun assumedly while she slept. This took place about an hour’s drive north of Pittsburgh in a rural farmhouse she shared with her boyfriend, one of her daughters, and Jordan.
It took local cops a short time to investigate and conclude that Jordan — whose father had purchased him a shotgun not long earlier — had committed the act. Though he denied it — and continues to deny it — Jordan was incarcerated and held for trial. A judge last year concluded that the 11-year-old would be tried as an adult for murder. The judge’s rationale: Jordan’s refusal to admit guilt showed that he was not sorry for what he did.
Admission or not, this is unheard of in most other states. Earlier this month, for example, an 10-year old in Ohio committed an eerily similar crime. There was zero talk of adult time in that case because in Ohio, a 10-year-old is a child.
In Pennsylvania, however, things aren’t so clear. Human Rights Watch has pointed out that the Keystone State sentences hundreds more kids to life in prison than any other state in the country (and more than most other states in the country combined). So in Pennsylvania an 11-year-old may not be a child in the eyes of the law. He or she may be an adult. And adults get harsh sentences: If Jordan is convicted, he’ll face a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. He’ll be the youngest person in recorded history to receive that sentence.
The hearing today will get to that. And it’ll also begin the process of answering the following question:
Is an 11-year-old liable for murder as an adult in Pennsylvania?
A panel will hear arguments today and eventually make a decision. One way or the other, that decision — which will take months, as these types of proceedings tend to — will have a massive impact on juvenile criminal law nationwide.
* It’s unconstitutional to sentence anyone to death if that person committed a crime before he or she turned 18.
* It’s also unconstitutional to sentence anyone to life in prison without the possibility of parole if that person committed a non-homicide offense before he or she turned 18.
* Read about SCI Pine Grove, the institution Jordan will serve time in if he’s convicted.
* Read the brief written by Jordan’s attorneys and Marsha Levick, Deputy Director and Chief Counsel of the Philadelphia Juvenile Law Center, in favor of trying Jordan as a juvenile.