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Boy Faces Adult Trial in Death of Pa. Woman, Fetus

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Associated Press: A judge's ruling that a 12-year-old boy will be tried as an adult on charges of fatally shooting his father's pregnant fiancee is an unprecedented move, an advocate for defense attorneys says.

jordan brown

Jordan Brown is charged with criminal homicide in the death of 26-year-old Kenzie Marie Houk in their farmhouse in New Galilee, in western Pennsylvania, on Feb. 20, 2009. Houk was 8 1/2 months pregnant when she died of a shotgun blast to the back of her head as she lay in bed; the male fetus died from a resulting lack of oxygen.

Cynthia Orr, president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys, said she's never heard of someone as young as Brown charged with fetal homicide. Brown's attorneys are expected to appeal.

"It's simply inappropriate to put a 12-year-old child in the adult prison system, it won't work," said Orr, a Texas attorney. "It won't benefit society or this child."

In his opinion Monday refusing to move the case to juvenile court, Lawrence County Judge Dominick Motto called Houk's death "an execution-style killing of a defenseless pregnant young mother.

"A more horrific crime is difficult to imagine," he wrote.

Brown's attorneys, Dennis Elisco and David Acker, have argued the boy's case would best be dealt with in juvenile court, where he could receive treatment and incarceration specifically aimed at younger offenders.

Under state law, the attorneys had to convince the judge that he was more "amenable" to rehabilitation in the juvenile system -- which would have jurisdiction only until he is 21 -- than as an adult.

But the judge said the testimony of defense psychologist Kirk Heilbrun didn't convince him that Brown was best tried as a juvenile.

Motto focused on findings by a prosecution psychiatrist, Dr. John O'Brien, who found that Brown tended to "minimize" the allegations against him. Brown denied killing Houk when examined by both doctors.

Kevin Harley, spokesman for the Pennsylvania attorney general, said prosecutors agree with the decision but stressed that prosecutors could still decide to move the case to juvenile court themselves if he admits he committed the crimes.

"Our position is he isn't amenable (to juvenile court rehabilitation) because he didn't admit he did it and hasn't accepted responsibility for his actions," Harley said.

Orr said Harley's comments show that Pennsylvania's system is flawed if a child must, for all practical purposes, admit guilt to have a chance to be tried as a juvenile.

"That means this whole process is inappropriate and, certainly, unconstitutional," she said.

Debbie Houk, the victim's mother, said she doesn't understand why there would be debate about the decision.

"There was no reason for uncertainty in our eyes," Houk said. "We're pleased."

Prosecutors have said they will seek a conviction on first-degree murder charges, for which Brown could face up to life in prison if convicted.

Prosecutors have suggested the boy was jealous of Houk and her unborn son. Police had said Brown hid the weapon under a blanket so Houk's 7-year-old daughter wouldn't see it as he entered her mother's room. Later, authorities say, he threw the spent shell casing along a path on his way to a bus and went to school.

A state trooper testified that tests showed the shell was fired from Brown's youth-model 20-gauge shotgun.

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