« The latest data on the shrinking death row in Ohio | Main | Is the Padilla ruling as profound as it seems? »

April 1, 2010

Pre-teen accused killer to be tried as an adult in Pennsylvania

Jordanbrown_mug__160 As explained in this article from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, a state judge earlier this week puts Pennsylvania on track to try perhaps the youngest ever defendant as an adult.  The article is headlined "12-year-old boy to be tried trial as adult: Accused of killing father's fiance, her unborn child," and here are the details:

A 12-year-old boy charged with killing his father's pregnant fiance is unlikely to be rehabilitated in the juvenile justice system by his 21st birthday, so he will stand trial as an adult, a Lawrence County judge ruled Monday.

If convicted of first-degree murder, legal experts say, Jordan Brown would be the youngest person in the country to serve a life sentence in prison without parole.

Police say Jordan fatally shot Kenzie Houk, 26, with a 20-gauge shotgun as she slept in their New Beaver farmhouse in February 2009. Her unborn son, who was nearly full term, also died. Jordan was 11 at the time.

"There is no indication of any provocation by the victim that led to her killing," Judge Dominick Motto wrote in his ruling. "The offense was an execution-style killing of a defenseless pregnant young mother. A more horrific crime is difficult to imagine."

Jordan's attorneys had asked Judge Motto to move the case to juvenile court, relying largely on testimony from a defense psychologist who said the boy would be at "low-risk" for future violence. That conclusion was "extremely vague," Judge Motto wrote, noting that the psychologist, Kirk Heilbrun, did not fully consider the possibility of Jordan's guilt in his assessment.

At the heart of the judge's decision was Jordan's refusal to take responsibility for the crime, which both Dr. Heilbrun and prosecution psychiatrist John S. O'Brien II, testified is necessary for rehabilitation. The law, however, does not require a confession to move a case to juvenile court. Dr. O'Brien said it is unlikely the boy will ever admit guilt, "thus making the prospects of rehabilitation within the confines of the juvenile court jurisdiction likely to be unsuccessful," the judge wrote....

The judge's order drew dismay from juvenile justice experts, who said Jordan's brain is not fully developed and he is incapable of the criminal sophistication prosecutors allege....

Judge Motto based his decision on, among other factors, the impact of the killings on the community and on Ms. Houk's family.  He looked at Jordan's background, his degree of culpability, his mental capacity and "the degree of criminal sophistication exhibited by the child."

Prosecutors have said Jordan harbors resentment when he feels treated unfairly.  The impending birth of his half-brother, named for his father, Christopher, likely made him similarly resentful, they said, as he was asked to move out of his room to accommodate the baby.

Police say Jordan hid a 20-gauge shotgun under a blanket so Ms. Houk's daughter would not see it, shot Ms. Houk and then left for school, discarding a shell casing outside their home.  "It is also relevant that the nature and the commission of the offense shows a significant degree of forethought, planning, and an effort on the defendant's part to make sure that it would be impossible or difficult to determine that he was the person responsible for the incidents," Judge Motto wrote.  "The offense was necessarily premeditated."

The juvenile system has rehabilitated other youth offenders and has the resources to work for someone like Jordan, whose brain is still developing, said Robert Schwartz, executive director of the Philadelphia-based Juvenile Law Center.  If found guilty, he said, Jordan should be held accountable in a "developmentally appropriate way." 

"We know children don't premeditate the same way adults do," he said.  "They are incapable of that planning and sophistication.  Kids of that age are not just small adults.  They develop in very rapid ways."

The full text of the Judge Dominick Motto's 18-page ruling is available at this link.

April 1, 2010 at 09:03 AM | Permalink

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d83451574769e2013110077191970c

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Pre-teen accused killer to be tried as an adult in Pennsylvania:

Comments

"At the heart of the judge's decision was Jordan's refusal to take responsibility for the crime, which both Dr. Heilbrun and prosecution psychiatrist John S. O'Brien II, testified is necessary for rehabilitation."

Yes. BECAUSE HE IS TWELVE YEARS OLD!!!!! How many pre-teens actually take responsibility for ANYTHING they do?? This prosecution will be quite the deterrent effect amongst the pre-teen set, I'm sure. Or at least among those pre-teens who follow the news or give a rat's ass about anyone or anything beyond their own raging hormones. Which is none of them.

Posted by: ALB | Apr 1, 2010 9:25:28 AM

I attended a seminar staffed by a man who defended a girl who assisted her boyfriend much older boyfriend in killing her mother in the family's home. She was 15 I believe, but couldn't fathom how much the killing had changed things. The first thing she said to him was 'when do I get to go home?' as if she didn't understand how much her home had changed.

Posted by: David | Apr 1, 2010 10:20:36 AM

This decision is a disaster. So a minor defendant has to "accept responsibility," i.e. admit guilt, before he can have his case tried, i.e. determine whether he is guilty, in juvenile court? Unreal.

Also, I do not accept the notion that "gage" is an acceptable replacement for "gauge."

Posted by: A.Nony.Mous | Apr 1, 2010 11:41:46 AM

At the heart of the judge's decision was Jordan's refusal to take responsibility for the crime, which both Dr. Heilbrun and prosecution psychiatrist John S. O'Brien II, testified is necessary for rehabilitation. The law, however, does not require a confession to move a case to juvenile court. Dr. O'Brien said it is unlikely the boy will ever admit guilt, "thus making the prospects of rehabilitation within the confines of the juvenile court jurisdiction likely to be unsuccessful," the judge wrote....

While the judge may not know it, all of that is stacked with fallacies. First, while acceptance of responsibility may be convenient for the government (easy to avoid the expense of a trial) there isn't that much correlation of acceptance and recidivism. This is another example of someone exercising his rights being labeled a psychopath for doing so. It's as if our founders wrote a psychopath trick question clause into the Constitution. "Do you want to remain silent, psychopath, or do you admit guilt like a human being?"

See also A fundamental attribution error? Rethinking cognitive distortions pdf

The notion of ‘cognitive distortion’ has become enshrined in the offender treatment
literature over the last 20 years, yet the concept still suffers from a lack of definitional
clarity. In particular, the umbrella term is often used to refer to offence-supportive
attitudes, cognitive processing during an offence sequence, as well as post-hoc
neutralisations or excuses for offending. Of these very different processes, the last one
might be the most popular and problematic. Treatment programmes for offenders often
aim to eliminate excuse-making as a primary aim, and decision-makers place great weight
on the degree to which an offender “takes responsibility” for his or her offending. Yet, the
relationship between these after-the-fact explanations and future crime is not at all clear.
Indeed, the designation of post hoc excuses as criminogenic may itself be an example of
fallacious thinking. After all, outside of the criminal context, post hoc excuse-making is
widely viewed as normal, healthy, and socially rewarded behaviour. We argue that the
open exploration of contextual risk factors leading to offending can help in the
identification of criminogenic factors as well as strengthen the therapeutic experience.
Rather than insist that offenders take “responsibility” for the past, we suggest that efforts
should focus on helping them take responsibility for the future, shifting the therapeutic
focus from post hoc excuses to offence-supportive attitudes and underlying cognitive
schemas that are empirically linked to re-offending.


and REMORSE, RESPONSIBILITY, AND REGULATING ADVOCACY: MAKING DEFENDANTS PAY FOR THE SINS OF THEIR LAWYERS pdf

MARGARETH ETIENNE*

The ethics laws traditionally have afforded criminal defense attorneys greater lati-
tude than other lawyers in their use of aggressive strategies on behalf of their clients.
Federal judges nonetheless attempt to regulate zealous, or what is perceived as over-
zealous, advocacy by criminal defense lawyers. They do so by using the “accept-
ance of responsibility” provision of the United States Sentencing Guidelines to
impose harsher sentences on criminal defendants whose attorneys engage in aggres-
sive forms of representation, such as making factually or legally dubious argu-
ments, seeking tactical delays, or misleading the court. Judges justify these higher
sentences by equating a zealous defense with remorselessness. This interpretation
of the sentencing laws chills zealous advocacy in a fashion that has escaped review
by most courts and scholars. This Article explores this method of regulation and its
troublesome implications for criminal defendants and the attorneys who represent
them

Posted by: George | Apr 1, 2010 12:03:13 PM

I left the public defender's office a few years ago and soon realized that many judges who appointed me on cases stopped doing so once they realized that, compared to other attorneys that accepted court appointments, to have trials or file motions to suppress. A public defender who had to get out of cases even described bailiffs who would lie and say "we can't appoint him, we just did" when she requested that I be appointed. It was stunning.

I'd known from experience that judges, at least where I practice, impose "trial taxes" for taking up there time with trials, but was caught off guard that attorneys were also "taxed" if they couldn't be counted on to convince the defendant to 'take the deal.' I'm starting to see more judges now that reward good advocacy rather than rewarding complacency, and that's a welcome relief.

Posted by: David | Apr 1, 2010 2:58:02 PM

Does any criminal lover lawyer here believe, this child is a little different than other children? That this difference matters to the next person that might cross him. Not a word from the low life criminal lover lawyers here about the victims. Not one.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Apr 1, 2010 7:12:35 PM

I think the process described where the Judge makes findings and decides which Court the case goes to violates Apprendi. Certainly the maximum sentence is blown up by the finding of the judge rather than a jury. Just my thought.

Posted by: Scott Forster | Apr 1, 2010 7:42:58 PM

In case anyone actually clicks the links, this link will work.

A fundamental attribution error? Rethinking cognitive distortions pdf

Posted by: George | Apr 1, 2010 9:25:12 PM

Although I do not subscribe to the language, SC has a point. By the time a kid is 12, he knows what death is, he knows that shooting someone in the head will kill them, and he knows that deliberately injuring someone (much less killing them) is morally wrong and against the law.

The indignant eagerness to provide excuses for this kid's behavior is appalling. As SC says, there are many, many kids of this age with "raging hormones," but almost none of them are so obsessed by anger and revenge as to do what this one did.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 1, 2010 11:23:28 PM

They do so by using the “accept-
ance of responsibility” provision of the United States Sentencing Guidelines to
impose harsher sentences on criminal defendants whose attorneys engage in aggres-
sive forms of representation, such as making factually or legally dubious argu-
ments, seeking tactical delays, or misleading the court. Judges justify these higher
sentences by equating a zealous defense with remorselessness. This interpretation
of the sentencing laws chills zealous advocacy in a fashion that has escaped review
by most courts and scholars.

Best Attorney

Posted by: dalbert | Apr 2, 2010 1:03:25 AM

The judge is a disaster who needs to be removed from the bench ASAP.

Posted by: mpb | Apr 2, 2010 3:06:54 AM

Maybe a guy named Dominick Motto needs to get another job.

Posted by: mpb | Apr 2, 2010 3:08:55 AM

So hey, let's take a person who killed a pregnant woman while she was asleep and let him loose when he's 21... great idea. There's definitely an inability to take responsibility here: it's in the comments section, with people who don't care about the woman and baby this kid killed or about justice for the victim, but only that their soft hearts and softer heads be appeased.

I hope the judge is overruled... and that the little monster moves in next door to one of you.

Posted by: DaveP. | Apr 3, 2010 2:08:40 PM

Those who are angry at the Judge seem to dismiss the fact that there will still be a trial by jury. The jury has some degree of power in deciding the level of guilt. If they don't believe that the criminal was fully capable of understanding the impact of his crime, they can take that into account.

I tend to agree with the school that says "people repeat what has worked for them before". I would also suggest that a kid with his finger on the trigger of a loaded shotgun is just as dangerous as a 50 year old. If set free, I wouldn't want to accidently make this kid upset shortly before his 18th birthday.

Posted by: Lokki | Apr 3, 2010 2:08:44 PM

I'd like a *whole* lot more information on this. Where's the dad? Where's the mom? The judge says "no provocation" -- is he crazy??? The stepmom the kid killed is only 14 years older than himself -- did the dad dump the mom for a cute young thing and just expect his son to be overjoyed? Is his mom involved in his life at all? Who was focused on his needs in the situation, who was putting him first? I'm not excusing the kid, but it sounds like his family life may have been pretty horrible. I'd be resentful too if I felt I was being shoved aside/replaced -- if that's what happened. In my mind, it's plenty of provocation when your whole world is turned upside down at the whim of the adults who control you, and you have no input. Life in an adult prison seems like too much, but you can't just send him to bed without supper and think it's OK. He is neither an adult nor, really, a child - neither system seems to fit him or other 12 - 16 year olds who commit serious crimes. (Since your comment form asks, I'm just a civilian, not involved in the legal system.)

Posted by: MTT | Apr 3, 2010 2:15:19 PM

Wow, so being upset/resentful allows us to shoot people! Great!

Posted by: jdub | Apr 3, 2010 2:41:28 PM

A lot of the comments here seem to overlook that among the judge's responsibilities in a case like this is to consider the threat to society once this boy reaches 21. It is highly unlikely that there was some plot to frame this kid - the prima facie evidence could just as readily have been characterized as res ipsa loquitur. I think many eleven or twelve year old boys think at some point that they want someone dead. Of those, the ones who actually carry it out AND show no remorse have gone down a path that juvenile correction cannot change. Note the distinction between failing to admit and showing no remorse - I think that the judge did.

Posted by: Larry | Apr 3, 2010 2:52:29 PM

I seriously doubt this kid will ever be a productive member of society, except possibly in the sense that a sociopath can blend in between crimes.

For many years, I've wondered about the automatic "tried as a juvenile" system in the context of kids maturing earlier. Why not go a system of everybody is treated and tried the same, with the potential option of giving different treatment based on age or mental facilities. Pre-teens and early teens are recruited into gangs, run/buy/sell drugs, commit murders for hire, rob, commit gang-rapes, and are largely immune from serious consequences. Often, they are in gangs run by majority-aged males, who use the younger ones as shields.

Just a thought; or, we can continue to wring our hands over what to do about "little Jordan."

Posted by: Steve | Apr 3, 2010 5:16:59 PM

For the folks who believe a 12 year old can understand the full level of culpability that an adult can, or that this 12 year old is somehow different and needs to be tried in adult court, where on this happy continent did you go to LAW SCHOOL? Or did you even bother? Twelve year olds do NOT necessarily understand death. They do not understand what admitting to something they've done wrong. This kid belongs in juvy court, with rehabilitation in mind,not a life time full of adult criminals. Anyone who supports such thinking needs to have their bar license and their JD revoked.

Posted by: Punkattorney PD | Apr 3, 2010 10:10:46 PM

Punkattorney PD writes, "This kid belongs in juvy court, with rehabilitation in mind, not a life time full of adult criminals. Anyone who supports such thinking needs to have their bar license and their JD revoked."

I believe we have just seen the curtain lifted on tolerance for disagreement, "PD" style.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 3, 2010 11:49:11 PM

It is simply amazing how many people here want to make excuses for a sociopathic murderer! No one is denying that this little sociopath murdered two people in cold blood and tried to cover up the crime. Forget about life in prison, this crime deserves the death penalty, and as soon as possible! Otherwise, it is only a matter of time before he kills again. You cannot rehabilitate a criminal, locking him up only works until he escapes, is paroled, is released due to prison overcrowding or is pardoned by some bleeding heart fool.

Those of you who argue he should be tried as a juvenile are basically saying he should be released when he turns 21. How many of you want this sociopath in your neighborhood when that happens? Suppose your wife or sister or mother or daughter make him angry somehow - then what? There should be less concern for the criminal and more concern about protecting the rest of us from him!

Posted by: battleofthepyramids | Apr 4, 2010 12:14:27 AM

concerned citizen

Posted by: battleofthepyramids | Apr 4, 2010 12:15:17 AM

No limits of tolerance or of discussion, Bill Otis. The decision violates a huge amount of precedent, and being that we are a society based on laws not on hysterical neighbors or lawyers. The law was broken or ignored by the judge. That's not acceptable. And, attorneys who believe it is acceptable aren't being attorneys, and don't deserve to call themselves such. Know the law before you preach it.

Posted by: Punkattorney PD | Apr 4, 2010 12:23:14 AM

Punkattorney PD --

You claim that you're suggesting no limits on tolerance at the same time you recommend disbarring any attorney who thinks the court in this case was correct and disagrees with your contrary conclusion.

Glad we got that straight.

"The decision violates a huge amount of precedent..."

Except that the decision is fact-bound, to wit, it concerns whether this particular juvenile in this particular set of circumstances is better suited for disposition in juvenile or adult court. And except that you cite not a single case among the supposedly "huge amount of precedent."

"...attorneys who believe it is acceptable aren't being attorneys, and don't deserve to call themselves such."

I assume that extends to public defenders who continuously claim that the death penalty is a per se violation of the Eighth Amendment despite a boatload of precedenct, see e.g., Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153 (1976) and the progeny thereof, holding to the contrary.

"Know the law before you preach it."

Unlike you, I just cited law. You might try it sometime. Even public defenders have been known to do so, in spare moments when they're not campaigning, in the name of civil liberties of course, to disbar their opponents.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 4, 2010 11:03:00 AM

I dont know why people are so outraged by the idea that you can ruin your life at the age of 12. It's harsh, and it sucks, but when you kill someone deliberately people are going to want you to pay for it, putting aside the issue of whether society is adequately protected by trying this kid as a juvenile. I feel sorry for the kid--I really do, but that doesn't mean I think that he should be getting out of jail when he's 21.

Posted by: federalist | Apr 4, 2010 2:32:51 PM

PD: You should be forced to take in this defendant into your home as a foster parent. Then, I would like to see you enforce a bedtime.

As a matter of policy and first impression, I would advocate the precious child be set loose after chopping up and dicing a lawyer. The killing of a lawyer should be an affirmative defense, as doing a great public good, like ridding the town of a pest alligator eating the pets. It should be rewarded with a cash award. You rid a town of a lawyer, you add $million in value to the economy every year thereafter, a tremendous benefit.

This judge is from Western Pennsylvania. If he looses this monster, he knows he will be running for his life, not for election.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Apr 4, 2010 7:33:24 PM

Battle: Like me, you are spitting into the wind. The folks here are dumbass lawyers. They make their living from evil, and will never tolerate any measure that in any way discourages their clients from the 17,000 murders and the 5 million violent felonies they commit. They lose their jobs if crime is discouraged in any way, as it was when guidelines dropped crime 40%. They are cult criminals and traitors to our nation themselves. You are preaching to the most powerful crime syndicate on earth. They managed to gain control of 99% of the US government decisions. Only mass arrests and executions will save our nation from these internal traitors. Because this will never happen in our airtight, totally rigged system, only a major catastrophe will result in change.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Apr 4, 2010 7:43:10 PM

I agree with Steve. I've often thought that crimes should be treated equally, with lattitude for age. What do we do with our 12, 14, 16 year old murderers? We can't treat them like shoplifters. If some poor, sweet little criminal has to spend the rest of his life in jail, that's an appropriate punishment. Plus it will be a lesson to others. Hopefully. There are things we do that SHOULD result in strong penalties. This is one of them.

By the way, I knew or could figure out whether or not every one of my acts was right or wrong by the time I was 12.

Posted by: CarbonBasedLifeForm | Apr 6, 2010 3:15:07 AM

You guys don't practice in the real world. You live in academia, and blog. That's sad. Read the long standing case law on juvenile justice (there's even a helpful source book called that. Public defenders aren't your enemies. We're the people who protect the Constitution, and people like you from the State. Ease up, and act like attorneys, not like 4th grade punks who murder.

Posted by: Punkattorney PD | Apr 9, 2010 12:51:29 AM

look. I can remember being 11. I was born on the 11th and thought turning 11 on the 11th was fun. So I remember. I KNOW that much earlier than that and certainly by then, that shooting a person was horribly wrong and I knew that kind of action kills people. I never ever considered taking any action remotely like that towards anybody. I do not believe that somoeone who is 11 is incapable of understanding what would happen. Are all of you so old that you can't remember? Or maybe you can't remember your childhood. I do. And I knew better. there's something dangerously wrong with this boy. If you look at the whole long history of this country you'll find examples of kids who kill their parents...but NO WAY is it the norm. Why? BECAUSE WE KNOW IT IS WRONG.

Posted by: jeanie | May 8, 2010 9:17:01 PM

<<>>

I don't need the law, common sense will do. I knew when I was 12 AND younger that guns are for killing people/animals, that's what they do. I had a cousin who was quite annoying and pissed me off pretty often. And I would have liked to beat him up, but I didn't. I knew it was wrong then. Maybe when I was FIVE years old I didn't know better, but certainly not at 12.

But, I don't understand the whole tried as an adult thing. I thought the whole reason it's 18 is because that is when you are an adult and have gained the knowledge, and experience (hopefully) to know what is right and wrong, and to make your own decisions. That's why we have juvie halls and adult prisons. If you are denied the privileges of adulthood, you can't vote, you can't smoke, or drink (not that the later are smart things to do) why can you still suffer the penalties?

Posted by: notalegalworker | Jul 15, 2010 7:29:26 PM

I agree that there was something deeply wrong with this boy. But we should also realize why he had that type of behavior. Maybe it was the mistreatment of a parent (resulting to a hatred which was molded through the years) or from external factors. Either way, maybe it might not have happened if the parents gave the boy the love that he deserved as well as explaining well to him everything that is happening in the home. Or when the parents would have known his unusual behavior problems, help would've immediately been given to him. But the damage has been done, so this kid should be punished for his crime.
This should serve as a lesson to both parents and children.

Posted by: Turning Winds Page | Feb 7, 2011 9:50:27 PM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB