Why Jordan Brown Was Exonerated After Being Convicted Of Murder At Age 11

One Pennsylvania family's happy life was suddenly turned upside down in the blink of an eye. Christopher Brown was engaged to his fiancée Kenzie Houk, per ABC News, and at eight and a half months pregnant, Houk was eagerly awaiting their new baby. Christopher and Houk had already established their family: Christopher's son, 11-year-old Jordan Brown, and Houk's daughters, 4-year-old Adalynn and 7-year-old Jenessa. Their blended family dynamic seemed to be going well since the children all got along. But everything changed on the morning of February 20, 2009.

Christopher left for work that morning, while the kids and Houk got ready for their day. Jenessa woke Jordan up, and the two left for school together. The youngest child, 4-year-old Adalynn, stayed behind with Houk. But the day took a tragic turn around 9 a.m. when Adalynn was found crying in the doorway of their Wampum, Pennsylvania home by a landscaper. She had a message to relay to the person who noticed her distress: her mom, Kenzie Houk, was dead.

As CNN reports, both Houk and her unborn baby had been killed by a 20-gauge shotgun bullet to the back of the head. And the murder weapon appeared to be Jordan Brown's child-sized gun. 

Botched interviews with the family

According to The Innocence Project, the investigation found no fingerprint or DNA clues that would point toward Jordan being Houk's killer. There were two main theories: either a stranger had broken into Houk's home after the kids left for school and murdered the 26-year-old. Or, Jordan had killed his dad's fiancée due to jealousy over the new baby, then went to school without missing a beat. 

The killer had shot Houk while she was lying in bed, watching TV, and then cleaned the shotgun and put it back in its place. Ellwood City Ledger reports that in order to get to the school bus with Jenessa, Jordan would have had only two minutes to murder Houk, clean the bullet debris off himself, clean the gun, and leave the house. 

The family was interviewed immediately after Houk's death. They interviewed 7-year-old Jenessa four times, but only recorded the fourth interview. By that point, Jenessa had changed her story. She first said she didn't see anything unusual with Jordan that morning, but by the fourth interview, Jenessa claimed she saw Jordan moving around his shotgun the morning her mom died.

Christopher Brown, Jordan's dad, was working at the time, so he had an alibi (per ABC News). Police turned to other suspects. Jordan said he had seen a black truck near his house that morning, but he didn't think anything of it at the time. But police said that Jordan later changed his story, adding additional details about a man inside the truck.

Interviewing the suspects

After all the interviews, police claimed that Jordan had shot his future stepmother, walked out the door, dropped a shotgun shell on the ground, and then hopped on the school bus with his Jenessa (via ABC News). The investigators insisted that Jordan's motive must be jealousy over the new baby.

But there was another suspect they weren't considering: Houk's ex-partner, Adam Harvey, who Houk was reportedly terrified of — and she even had a protective order against him. In the past, Harvey had warned that he would kill Houk, threatening her and her new family after finding out that Adalynn was not his biological child. Plus, Harvey drove a black truck, like the kind that Jordan remembered seeing outside Houk's home. There was no shotgun residue found on Harvey's hands, and he still had snow on the hood of his car as evidence he hadn't been driving that day. So he was ruled out as a suspect pretty quickly.

But for Jordan Brown, the nightmare was just beginning. Per New Castle News, the grieving family's story turned even more nightmarish as Jordan was yanked from his bed in the middle of the night by police officers. 

Charged as an adult

It would be the last time he was home for years: the 11-year-old was going to be charged as an adult for Houk's murder, according to New Castle News. As ABC News reports, Jordan was confused and unaccompanied as he was taken to the county jail. Over the following nine years, Christopher visited his son every single day — even though the trip was about 115 miles each way — bringing him fantasy books to distract him from life behind bars. 

Jordan has always maintained that he was innocent of Houk's killing, but with Houk's family and the police working against him, the fifth-grader was stuck in the juvenile detention system. Jordan lived at the Edmund L. Thomas Adolescent Detention Center for three years before his trial, and was later moved to other facilities. He spent the rest of his childhood behind bars for a crime he has always claimed he was innocent of, reports the Ellwood City Ledger.

Facing a lifetime in prison

There was a consistent backlash in the case as the years dragged on. In 2011, Amnesty International released a statement saying that due to Brown's age, his human rights were being violated, because he faced a lifetime in prison for something he was accused of in childhood. They added that America is the only country on Earth where kids can be sentenced to a life sentence without the chance for parole.

So how and why was Jordan finally exonerated? Well, it was not an easy road for the Brown family. Most children who are imprisoned have their case examined within a year at the most, while Jordan's case languished for years before he was even officially charged with anything (via New Castle News). Then, after so many years of waiting to hear the verdict in his case, Jordan was found guilty on first-degree murder charges in 2012 (per Yahoo News). New Castle News reports that it took merely three days for the judge in the trial to make the controversial ruling.

Seeking justice in adulthood

Jordan was released from juvenile detention in 2016, seven years after the murder of Kenzie Houk, since he had completed a slate of juvenile detention programs, per New Castle News. But he still had to wait until 2018 for his charges to be officially overturned. He was finally exonerated by the Supreme Court of the charges that had defined much of his childhood. According to ABC News, the Supreme Court determined that there was not enough evidence to say with certainty that Jordan had committed the crime. Plus, he cannot be recharged with the same offense, according to the court's ruling, according to New Castle News.

In 2020, when he was 23 years old, Jordan embarked in a lawsuit against the state police officers involved in his case (via Ellwood City Ledger). Jordan's life has a bit more normalcy now that he has left prison. He attended college to study computer science and criminal justice, in the hopes of becoming a civil rights attorney for the next generation of accused kids. He hopes to try and gain justice for the nearly 10 years of his childhood and teenage life that he spent behind bars.