Children and Adolescents Crime and Punishment Juvenile Justice LWOP Kids

PA 12-year-old Could be Youngest Lifer Kid


A 12-year-old Pennsylvania boy is to be tried for the murder of his soon-to-be stepmother
and her unborn child. He was 11 at the time of the shooting. The judge who ordered the adult proceedings says that the boy, Justin Brown, has no remorse thus is unlikely to be rehabilitated.

If he is found to be guilty, he will face a mandatory life sentence without parole, and will be the youngest person in the nation serving life.

Although, according to the judge’s written ruling, evidence certainly seems to point straight to the boy for the murder, Justine Brown has insisted from the beginning that he did not kill the pregnant mother of two, Kenzie Houk.

Justine’s father said that his fiance had recently been threatened by an embittered old boyfriend.

Here are clips from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

At the heart of the judge’s decision was Jordan’s refusal to take responsibility for the crime, which both Dr. Heilbrun [the defense psychiatrist] 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.

Here’s the judge’s opinion.

The Post-Gazette later reported that some experts were startled by the judge’s decision.

“I am shocked,” said Jeffrey Shook, a professor of social work at the University of Pittsburgh and an expert on the juvenile justice system. “We know a lot about young people and how they’re different, and to treat someone who is 11 at the time of their offense as an adult really rejects a lot of what we know about adolescent brain development.”

Laurence Steinberg, a developmental psychologist at Temple University in Philadelphia and expert on adolescent behavior and brain biology, said “the idea of taking a child this age and locking them up for life is pretty repugnant. What he (allegedly) did is repugnant also. But the heinousness of the crime does not make him an adult.”

The trial will likely take place in May.


  • Appalling decision by the judge- an 11-year old is a child, first of all, with incomplete brain development as the psychiatrist says. Even if he did it. Which he denies, so this judge is expected a confession of guilty from a child who is NOT guilty, in order to get a reduced sentence: nuts. Also his father insists an old boyfriend is a suspect: how thoroughly were he and others checked out?

  • At what age do you think a sociopathic personalty develops SBL? I was involved in a murder case where the suspect was 12 years old and the boy was proud of what he did, bragged about it and showed not one bit of remorse and he was tried as a juvenile. He was a sociopath at a very early age and his parents even knew it.

    Don’t know how this kid turned out, it was many years ago. The parents were certainly not at fault in any way that our investigation showed. Some people are born evil, I’m convinced of that as well as some shrinks, one who wrote an opinion piece in the L.A. Times years ago saying just that.

    Here’s a link to a little more on the case in this thread. (

    I would say that kids at this age might not cop out that they did something because they think they might get in more trouble. There’s no doubt about that in my mind, was a 12 year old boy that got in trouble and always wanted to avoid maximun punishment.

    They have the right suspect in this case, no doubt about that, but if it turns out he’s not a sociopath I’d say juve court is where this belongs. If his prior history shows he is, lock him up forever. Kids are way more sophisticated these days than when I was growing up and stories to back that up are in the news all the time.

  • Both good points,I agree with SureFire that some people can just be born evil. I also think that people can change. I know through personal experience that people can change. But what seems at question here is whether Jordan can ever be rehabilitated or not? And the fact that he is not taking responsibility for his actions.
    How can the judge determine that at 11 years old, this kid will never, ever break down and admit his guilt? At some point, whether it be sooner or later it’s very possible that this kid may decide through counseling or maturity or whatever circumstances that it’s time to admit the truth and explain what happened.
    I do understand that they say this kid is pretty sophisticated in his planning and covering up of the crime, so it may never happen. They kid may have just been born evil. But I just can’t see guaranteeing this kid LWOP at 11 yrs old. Give him a chance to at least try and rehabilitate.

  • Pops says a lot. It’s absolutely certain that this budding sociopathic kid will only compound his affliction with life in prison, but who the heck is willing to take a blind bet on his redemption? What a shame.

  • But, uh, what if the kid won’t take responsibility for his actions because he didn’t do it??? Like I said, “guilt” is circumstantial here, there’s another suspect not checked out – and while the father is conflicted no doubt in wanting to defend his son, he also cared about the wife/ step-mother, so I think his views should be considered strongly. Just because the prosecution found a psychiatrist to claim the kid showing no remorse is some sort of “proof” he can’t be rehabilitated is idiotic: you can find a shrink to say anything. And that would hold true, maybe, only IF he’s guilty. Even if if he did do it, if it was an “act of passion” that would be manslaughter, not premeditated. – in NO way would I minimize that, the worst nightmare of a stepmother walking into a “blended” family (!!!) but you’re all missing the crucial issues.

  • SBL, you’re dreaming if you think the cops haven’t checked out the dad’s position on the ex.

    By the way, the “crucial issue”, that you’re missing, is that this kid shot his soon to be step-mom in the back of the head while she was sleeping. How in the hell is that in the “heat of passion”. In fact, how could you even bring it up based on how she was executed?

    Houk was 26 years old, eight months pregnant, and lying asleep in bed at the time she was shot in the back of the head.

    There’s also this info which makes me believe the seed was planted some time before he killed her .

    Houk’s relatives and others suggest that Jordan was jealous about the upcoming marriage and imminent birth. He likely feared that this baby, a boy, would replace him, and he would be cast aside. Having been abandoned by his own mother years ago, he may also have worried he was being “left” once again, this time by his father. Like many stepchildren, he apparently resented his stepmother tremendously. Indeed, Jordan reportedly told one of Kenzie’s young nephews that he wanted to kill the woman who would soon become his stepmom.

  • 5.sbl Says:
    April 18th, 2010 at 3:15 pm
    But, uh, what if the kid won’t take responsibility for his actions because he didn’t do it???

    If he didn’t do it, the evidence should prove so and the whole LWOP issue will cease to be an issue.

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