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Should a 12-Year-Old Face Life in Prison?

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He killed his dad's pregnant girlfriend when he was 11 -- but should he pay for that the rest of his life?

Jordan Anthony Brown and Kenzie Marie Houk

A 12-year-old boy might be tried as an adult in the shooting death of his father's pregnant girlfriend -- and could face life in prison without the possibility of parole. 

Jordan Brown is one of the youngest murder suspects in the country. He faces two counts of homicide, and he pleaded not guilty to the charges last May.

His family, however, wants him tried in juvenile court. His next hearing is March 12. 

Police say Brown, then 11, shot Kenzie Marie Houk once at point-blank range in her farmhouse in western Pennsylvania on February 20, 2009. According to investigators, the weapon was a youth model 20-gauge shotgun -- designed for use by children -- that belonged to the boy. The gun was reportedly a Christmas gift from the boy's father, who was training him to be a hunter.

Houk was eight months pregnant with Brown's father's child, and also had two daughters, 7 and 4, who lived in the rural home with the Browns. Authorities said it was in that home that Houk was slain as she lay in bed.

Police said that after the shooting, Brown hopped onto a school bus with Houk's oldest daughter. He was picked up from school several hours later after tree trimmers called 911 when Houk's youngest daughter told them she thought her mother was dead.

We asked psychologist Dr. Michelle Golland for her perspective. "This is a sad situation where a cry for help was not heard in time," says Dr. Golland. "Jordan's family had reported in the weeks before the shooting that he had been sharing his anger at the father's girlfriend and even had said he wanted to kill her. It seems his frustration with his home life had come to a boiling point when he took his own shotgun and killed Kenzie Houk."

Adolescent Depression
"Adolescent depression can often manifest itself as rage and frustration," says Dr. Golland. "The problem is that children don't have the same brain functioning that adults do to realize the full ramifications of their behavior. It is imperative that when children express anger and threaten people in their lives, we take them seriously and take action to keep them and those around them safe."

Challenges of Blended Families
"Blending families together can be very challenging because each child is going to fear the loss of his or her power or position in the family," says Dr. Golland. "It is important that children feel they can openly and honestly discuss their thoughts and feelings about becoming a new family. Often the parents in a blended family are happy and feel so pleased to have found love again that they believe everyone -- including the children -- is as happy as they are. But this is unrealistic. It is important that the families who are being blended consciously deal with the power differential between the parents and the children, so they can handle these issues lovingly and respectfully."

Do you think that Jordan Brown should be tried as an adult?

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32 comments so far | Post a comment now
Anonymous February 11, 2010, 1:03 PM

his decision is immature like his age, the result however was serious. 12 years old is enough to know the difference between life and death and the preserving of life. His decision to kill, no matter the age, should have him tried as an adult. This was not an accident.

Dini February 11, 2010, 1:05 PM

He told her he wanted to kill her? Sounds like pre-meditation to me. Either life in prison or life in an insane asylum. Either way throw away the key. Also, who gives an 11 year old kid his own shotgun? I understand teaching him to hunt, but he shouldn’t have a firearm of his own until he’s at least 18. Put the father away too. That kind of stupidity is criminal.

Anonymous February 11, 2010, 2:36 PM

I say 1st degree murder… Life in prison…. Cold calculated no matter the age…seek death penalty

Kathy February 11, 2010, 3:00 PM

It’s a tough one but I don’t think that he will be rehabilitated in Juvie before he would get out in 8 years. I am not sure no parole is the answer either. I feel for those people.

Angela February 11, 2010, 3:08 PM

Is anyone else disturbed that they make shotguns for CHILDREN?

Me February 11, 2010, 5:29 PM

I tend to be quite harsh on my opinions of what penalties should be for criminals but in this case I do think life without parole is too much. If he is tried as a juvenile I’m assuming he’d be let out when he turns 18 years old. I think that is far too soon. He certainly needs more of a sentence than six that, but the rest of his life? I think the family is very much partially to blame in this case. This child has obviously been exposed to some pretty crazy things to even have the idea of actually shooting someone. Either that or his parents really ignored obvious signs that their child had SERIOUS issues. There is no way a 11 year old who is capable of point blank shooting someone could appear “okay”. There had to be obvious signs that things were seriously wrong. I bet there was far more signs of problems besides the child’s comments that he wanted to kill the girlfriend. And for him to have access to a gun and bullets the parents were very negligent. Obviously that does make what he did okay but I think a lot of what happened probably had to do with awful situations in his home and when out of his home and going through counseling and maybe meds if needed he could likely be turned into a good citizen. Life without the chance of parole is just too much.

Stephanie Coldwell February 11, 2010, 7:13 PM

There is nothing wrong with a 12 year old being taught to hunt. What’s wrong is that he had access to the gun at all times! It should have been locked up, especially after he threatened her the first time!!
Try him as an adult, and I agree, something needs to happen to his dad as well. That’s bad parenting. Not saying that he taught him to do it, but he ignored the threats.
Some people should not be allowed to have children! It’s a privilege!

Ellie February 11, 2010, 7:15 PM

Um, yeah - he should be tried as an adult. How is this even a question? His father should be charged with involuntary manslaughter or something too for providing him with a gun AND ammo and leaving the dang thing in the child’s possession!! So sad.

Sarah February 11, 2010, 8:13 PM

I’m always shocked when I’m so far off the popular opinion. I can not believe anyone -anyone- would want to hold an 11 year old responsible for a crime for the *rest* of their lives. Shocking. “Tried as an adult” (ADULT!) at 11? Maybe for a 17 year old. This kid probably hasn’t even hit puberty yet. These comments are unbelievable to me.

Gail Cooke February 11, 2010, 8:28 PM

Adult crime, Adult time….send him to prison. A psychopath in the making.

Anna February 11, 2010, 9:19 PM

Stephanie Coldwell, couldn’t agree more. What that child needs is to be held in a clinic and evaluated. This child has issues and needs help not punishment. If he gets a jail sentence for a crime he probably was too young to really understand it will not do any good but give blood vengence. This boy is too young to have his stupid choice ruin his whole life. He will never go to a good college, get a good job and the jail sentence will take away good years from his childhood. Also when he grows up he will go strait from jail and into the streets- is that healthy for the rest of us; having someone adjust into adulthood while in prison be released into the world?

Raine February 12, 2010, 7:12 AM

I think he should be tried as an adult. Most life sentences are 20 years, and with good time & things he could be eligible for parole earlier if he really has changed, and has not gotten even worse while in prison [yeah, being in prison messes people up but the alternative is letting them free until the system is fixed]. He can finish school, even college, get job training, and psychological counseling free in prison, which is more than a lot of young people have right now, then if he is stable enough he will have much more of a chance than the woman he killed and her child who never even had a chance to be born did.

I also agree that he should not have had access to a gun. I come from a family of shooters/hunters, and some of us had our “own” guns as young as 6 or 7, but they were always kept locked up and we were not allowed access to them alone until we were old enough to be responsible [between 14 & 18, depending on the kid]. Any sort of threats or emotional problems going on like that, and there is no way we would have had access to firearms at all.

Cheryl February 12, 2010, 9:07 AM

I respectfully disagree with those who think he should not be tried as an adult. He took a life, he should be punished for that. If not life without parole, then a good chunk of it, at least all of his young adult years, say to age 40. As a murderer, he should have the rest of his childhood taken from him, he does not deserve to go to college and have an easy go of it. Prison is supposed to be punitive. He deserves it.

Tina February 12, 2010, 9:42 AM

first i don’t see a problem with the fact that an 11 year has his own gun for hunting, my stepson has his own (he is 9) BUT it is locked up and only his father and i know where the key is. i honestly don’t think he’d beable to find the key if he tried, its not even in the house. anyhow. this 11 year old KILLED SOMEONE and their unborn child. he is old enough to know right from wrong and the finality of death. the child should be locked up for a VERY long time, and he obviously needs a tremendous amount of theropy.

alawyer February 12, 2010, 1:57 PM

This story isn’t unique - kids have killed since antiquity. Pennsylvania has the highest number of people who were convicted as minors serving life without parole. In 1993, Cameron Kocher pled guilty to manslaughter after several years of wrangling - he was NINE when he shot a neighbor off the back of a snowmobile from 300 yards. Like Brown, he had open and easy access to guns and had been taught to shoot hard targets from a young age. Kocher was set for an adult trial but the prosecutor was not re-elected (he was after all, a known pedophile.) Kocher never served a day in jail and has never been heard of since. The belief that someone who deos this sort of thing cannot be rehabillitated has no basis in history or fact. Here’s what’s really happening in this case: the prosecutor is a wannabe politician who is looking for big headlines; he is getting plenty of publicity as long as he milks this as an adult case; he is making ridiculous claims that he either had to try it as an adult case or not (he could have charged Brown as a juvenile with manslaughter); his plan is to terrify the boy into an ill-conceived plea bargain where Brown will serve out the remainder of his youth in a juvenile and adult prison combo, being released sometime between 21 and 25, with a 20 year period of probation. Sound like a good idea? Not really - Brown will be notorious, marked, carrying an adult murder-felony conviction, and completely unable to live anything approachuing a normal life. This case is precisely why the juvenile system exists. He could be more than adequately punished under that system. PA’s youth prisons are not summer camps - they are rotten places intended to brutally punish - as are most youth prisons in the United States. The myth of the easy juvenile system has gone on for too long - it’s time people educated themselves and did a little reading. And for those who mention the fault of the father - you bet he was at fault - if this kid had killed a stranger, the father and the would-be stepmother would have been charged and would have faced serious civil liability. The fact is, the dead woman caused her own death by permitting a child under her care to keep a shotgun under his bed with minimal supervision - this has nothing to do with hunting - it has to do with recklessness. She killed her own fetus. The boy may or may not be guilty of the actual crime but he lacked the capacity at 11 to understand the fetus as human theory on which one murder charge is based and he suffered diminished capacity - he had the mind of a child - making this killing manslaughter at worst. This is why most nations set the age of criminal responsibility at 12 or 14, or even 16.

Anonymous February 12, 2010, 3:27 PM

I think he should be tried as an adult.

Laura  February 13, 2010, 3:49 AM

I have heard a lot of people bandying the word “psychopath” about this boy but I’m not so sure. The prosecutors say that the victim was pregnant and defenseless, but is that really the case? She was, in fact, his father’s pregnant girlfriend and, as such, must have had some considerable power over the boy. A token of this is in the stement: “Prosecutors allege there was tension between the boy and Houk, adding he was jealous of her and her two children, reports CBS News correspondent Kelly Wallace.”

There was tension? It is said he was jealous of her and her two children?

Well, isn’t that the typical lay-out of the wicked step-mother archetype? And how many of us know from our own experience that such archetypes exist for a reason? How do we know that this woman didn’t constantly psychologically abuse and torture this boy - never leaving a mark on his body, but twisting his mind and emotions?

And how must he have felt to have her and her children moving in on his life while his own mother was… where? And where was his father in all this? Backing up the girlfriend while she subtly taunted the boy? Or put him down?

Let’s face it: the kid had some sort of reason for what he did no matter how wrong it was. He undoubtedly felt totally powerless to change anything in any other way.

On the other hand, he could be a young psychopath. All possibilities should be left open until more data is brought forward. I just want to point out that this is a story as old as time… and in this world of video games, TV, and corrupt governments setting examples of out-of-control behavior, ugly psychological situations have a way of becoming all too real.

Let him who is without sin…

sane1 February 13, 2010, 1:35 PM

Aren’t adults supposed to protect children? I agree with alawyer. Sorry to all you folks who would gladly spend more to incarcerate kids every year then to educate and protect them from irresponsible “parents”. If your dog or your horse goes off leash and does damage you are in more trouble than if your child is truant or worse yet harms something or someone.

Chrissy February 14, 2010, 11:56 PM

Do we know if he’s even guilty? Because some you seem to being saying that.
According all reports - he never shown any signs of violence, or have been in trouble with the law or in school.
The girlfreind’s 7 year old daughter said she heard a “boom” before she leaft for school with Jordan. But only said that during the THIRD time of being questioned by the police.
Which also begs the question, why was the women in her bedroom instead of helping her 7 year old get ready for school? Maybe she was killed by someone else, later?
They found the shotgun with a blanket over it with a bullet size hole.
Would an 11 year old know ebough to put a blanket over the gun to try to muzzle the sound?
And we know nothing about the girlfriend’s background.
Before everyone decides to fry the kid maybe we should wait for more imformation.

Anonymous February 16, 2010, 11:36 AM

100% tried as adult. It was premeditated MURDER!! My 6 year old knows the difference between life and death and knows it is wrong to take a life. I don’t think life without parole is harsh enough! Seriously, to anyone who disagrees what lesson will he learn in juvie? that he can do whatever the heck he pleases without culpability

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