Experts Disagree On Adult Homicide Charge For 11-Year-Old Suspect
Boy Accused In Lawrence County Murder
Monday, February 23, 2009 - updated: 11:00 pm EST February 23, 2009PITTSBURGH, Pa. —
The 11-year-old boy accused of killing Kenzie Houk sits in the Lawrence County Jail.
Pennsylvania law requires that any child 10 and older accused in a homicide must be charged as an adult.
It's a rule that puts prosecutors at odds with mental health experts.
Dr. Lawson Bernstein is a clinical and forensic psychiatrist who's consulted on numerous criminal investigations.
He said that charging 11-year-old Jordan Brown as an adult in the killing presents many difficult questions based on a child's level of understanding.
"An 11-year-old brain is not as mature," said Dr. Berstein. "The frontal lobes don't work as well, which is seed of the brain involving planning and the ability to realize outcome, including adverse outcome."
The boy's attorney has been working to get the case transferred to a juvenile court, and to get him out on bond and out of the Lawrence County Jail.
"Our jail, like any jail, is not equipped for children that young," said Dennis Elisco, Brown's attorney. "But he's a typical 11-year-old kid and he's devastated."
The district attorney said he has enough evidence to keep Jordan held as an adult.
A 20-gauge shotgun was seized from his bedroom, as well as a blanket with a hole in it and burn marks that may have been used to conceal the weapon.
They also have statements from the victim's 7-year-old daughter.
"She puts him in the house, puts the gun in his hands, hears the bang," said John Bongivengo, Lawrence County District Attorney.
But Berstein believes a focus must also remain on whether or not the fifth grade boy truly understood the consequences of his actions.
Berstein asked, "Do they understand that if you pull the trigger of gun and a bullet is discharged and it strikes somebody else that they will be harmed? Yes, I think most kids would generally understand that. Do they understand the enormity of the decision they are making? Then by definition, no. They don't understand it in a cause and effect way that adults would."
Even if convicted in an adult court, laws forbid the death penalty for anyone under 18 years of age.
The worst Jordan Brown could face is life in prison.
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