Court clears 20-year-old man nearly a decade after he was convicted of killing his father's pregnant fiancee
The justices in the court ripped apart the evidence against him, saying that it was insufficient. What was surprising was that a violent ex of the victim had not been suspected
The highest court in Pennsylvania on July 18 overturned the conviction of 20-year-old Jordan Brown who was 11 in 2009 when he fatally shot his father's pregnant fiancee. His lawyers have said that the Supreme Court in the state ruled 5-0 and cleared the man of any wrongdoing in the death of 26-year-old Kenzie Houk, who had been eight months pregnant at the time.
Her body was discovered in a rural western Pennsylvania farmhouse that is owned by the family. The Supreme Court essentially reversed a ruling by a juvenile court judge in Lawrence County, that was upheld by a state appellate court, that Brown was guilty of first-degree murder and homicide of an unborn child. The court ruled that the prosecutors in the case back then had not given enough evidence to support the charges that the man had initially been convicted of.
The justices in the court ripped apart the evidence that was presented and said that it was insufficient. They said that the trial testimony that mentioned a shotgun that was in Brown's bedroom as being the murder weapon "supported an equally reasonable conclusion" that it was not the weapon that killed Houk. According to court documents, the pregnant fiancee was discovered lying on a bed in a pool of blood. The shotgun wound was found to the back of her head, reported the Daily Mail.
The now 20-year-old Brown had been tried as a juvenile after his attorneys fought hard against one judge's initial decision to try him as an adult. One of the lawyers, Kate Burdick, said that Brown, who had been referred to in court documents as J.B., had maintained his innocence since the day of the murder and had finally received "long overdue justice". She said: "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."
The state attorney general's office was the one handling the appeal. Burdick revealed Brown was not in custody anymore and that he had met all his treatment goals.
A judge in 2016 had put the man on probation and he had been in the custody of an uncle who lives in Ohio. Burdick said that if Brown was charged again for the same crime, it would violate the "double jeopardy" clause in the US Constitution which states that a person cannot be tried more than once for the same crime.
Brown's probation that he received under a juvenile court would have lasted only for a few more weeks until he turned 21-years-old. His lawyers had fought the case in the Supreme Court in 2014 and won an order that gave them a fresh chance to argue that there had not been enough evidence to convict him in the first place. Brown's other lawyer, Stephen Colafella, said that winning that decision in the Supreme Court and then getting a reversal from the high court was "extraordinarily rare".
Houk's daughters had been 4 and 7-years-old at the time when their mother was murdered. They went to live with their grandparents after the incident. Chris Brown, the father, had left for work on the day of the murder. He had left his fiancee alone with the three children before his son and Houk's older daughter left the home to catch the school bus. The younger daughter was the one who found her mother's body. The child then told the tree service crew about the body. The crew was there to finish collecting the firewood that they had cut the day before from the woods in front of the family home.
The court had made the decision to send state police to look for Houk's ex-boyfriend who had a long history of making violent threats against her. Court documents said that Houk, her parents, sister, and brother-in-law all had permanent restraining orders against the man. Only two weeks before Houk was found murdered, the ex-boyfriend had received results of a paternity test that told him that the younger daughter, the 4-year-old who found her mother's body, was not actually his daughter.
Court documents said that the night before Houk was murdered, the violent man had confronted both her parents in a nightclub from where he had gone to pick up some food. The altercation resulted in him being thrown out by bouncers.
The prosecutor had argued in the initial trial that Brown had murdered Houk because he had felt left out of the family. They also spoke about other pieces of circumstantial evidence that included traces of gunshot residue on the boy's clothes as well as a newly spent shell casing that had been found along the driveway where he walked to the bus.
Brown told the authorities that as he was getting out the door of the school bus that day, he had seen a black pickup truck next to the garage and that it looked like a truck that belonged to one of Houk's ex-boyfriends. Court papers said, however, that Harvey, Houk's violent ex, was not even included as a suspect.