Court overturns Lawrence County boy’s conviction in 2009 murder
HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania’s highest court on Wednesday overturned the conviction of a then-11-year-old boy in the 2009 shotgun slaying of his father’s pregnant fiancée, saying prosecutors had not provided enough evidence to support it.
The state Supreme Court’s 5-0 ruling clears Jordan Brown of wrongdoing, his lawyers say, in the slaying of 26-year-old Kenzie Houk, who was eight months pregnant when she was found dead in the family’s rural western Pennsylvania farmhouse.
It reversed a finding by a juvenile court judge in Lawrence County, upheld by a state appellate court, that Brown was guilty of first-degree murder and homicide of an unborn child.
Justices attacked the evidence as insufficient, saying among other things that trial testimony pointing to a shotgun in Brown’s bedroom as the murder weapon “supported an equally reasonable conclusion” that it wasn’t the murder weapon.
Houk was found lying in bed in a pool of blood with a shotgun blast to the back of her head, according to court papers. Brown, now 20, was tried as a juvenile after his lawyers fought a judge’s original decision to try him as an adult.
A lawyer for Brown, Kate Burdick, said Brown — referred to in court papers as J.B. — has maintained his innocence since the murder and has now received “long overdue justice.”
“While we can’t give J.B. his childhood back, we are glad the Supreme Court has cleared his name so that he can move forward with a productive life,” Burdick said.
The state attorney general’s office, which was handling the appeal, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Burdick would not discuss Brown’s whereabouts, only saying that he was not in custody and that he had met all his treatment goals. In 2016, a judge put Brown on probation and in the custody of an uncle, who lives in Ohio.
Burdick said charging Brown again for the same crime would violate the “double jeopardy” clause of the U.S. Constitution that prohibits trying someone twice for the same crime.
Brown’s lawyers have battled the case to the Supreme Court before, in 2014 winning an order granting them a new chance to argue there was insufficient evidence to convict him.
Houk’s daughters — ages 4 and 7 at the time — went to live with their grandparents, and it was youngest who found her mom’s dead body, telling a member of a tree service crew that had arrived at the property to finish collecting firewood they had cut the previous day from a wooded area in front of the house.
On the day of the murder, Chris Brown, Jordan’s father, had already gone to work, leaving Houk with Jordan and the two girls before Jordan Brown and the older daughter went to catch the school bus.