Defense wants Pa. boy murder suspect released

AP News
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Posted: Jan 19, 2012 1:34 PM
Defense wants Pa. boy murder suspect released

Attorneys for a western Pennsylvania boy who was 11 when he allegedly killed his father's pregnant fiancee want an appeals court to release him from custody while it decides whether his trial will be public at the request of three newspapers.

The state Superior Court heard the newspapers' appeal last week in the case of Jordan Brown, now 14.

His trial, originally scheduled for September 2011, has been delayed indefinitely by the appeal filed by the New Castle News, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

The court is "expediting" the newspapers' appeal, but defense attorney Stephen Colafella told The Associated Press on Thursday he feels Brown has been incarcerated too long without a trial. That's why the defense filed a Superior Court petition Wednesday, first reported by the Beaver County Times, seeking Brown's release.

Colafella said it's possible the newspaper appeal will be decided, and the juvenile trial rescheduled, even before the appeals court takes up the release petition.

Brown has been in a juvenile detention center in Erie, about 80 miles from his home in Wampum, since shortly after the Feb. 20, 2009 killing of 26-year-old Kenzie Houk. Her unborn son also died from a lack of oxygen after Brown killed her with his shotgun minutes before leaving for school, prosecutors said.

State law requires criminal homicide charges to be filed in Common Pleas, or "adult" court, regardless of a defendant's age so Brown's identity and other details were widely reported before his attorneys convinced a Lawrence County judge to move the case to juvenile court last year. Another judge then ruled the trial would be closed.

State law says juvenile court trials for certain serious felonies must be public if the defendant was at least 12. But judges have discretion to close trials for younger defendants to protect their privacy and other rights while under juvenile court jurisdiction, which ends when they turn 21. Brown faced up to life in prison if convicted in "adult" court.

The newspapers contend prior publicity has made a closed trial unnecessary and argued Brown's attorneys and his father, Christopher _ who proclaimed Jordan's innocence on ABC's "Good Morning America" last year _ have made the trial's outcome a matter of compelling public interest.

Investigators contend only Houk's two younger daughters, ages 7 and 4, were the only others home when she was shot and even the judge who moved the case to juvenile court conceded the evidence points to Jordan.

But the defense argues Brown hasn't waived his rights to a closed trial and cloistered court supervision because of the past publicity, and Colafella said real questions remain about the boy's guilt.

"I can tell you we intend to paint a different picture when we go to trial," Colafella said.

A state attorney general's spokesman declined to comment.

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Information from: Beaver County Times, http://www.timesonline.com/