Boy, 11, charged in killing father's girlfriend

February 21, 2009 6:48:55 PM PST
An 11-year-old boy shot his father's pregnant girlfriend in the back of the head while she was lying in bed in their western Pennsylvania farmhouse, then got on the school bus and went to school, authorities said Saturday. ordan Brown was charged Saturday as an adult in the shooting death of 26-year-old Kenzie Marie Houk, who was 8 months pregnant, Lawrence County District Attorney John Bongivengo said at a news conference.

Houk's family and friends, who gathered at her parents' house Saturday night, told The Associated Press that there had been some problems with the boy in the past.

"There was an issue with jealousy. He told my son stuff," Houk's brother-in-law, Jason Kraner, 34, told The Associated Press. "He actually told my son that he wanted to do that to her."

At about 11 a.m. on Friday, Brown was picked up from school by Pennsylvania State Police, who found Houk's body after her 4-year-old daughter told tree cutters working on the property she thought her mother was dead, Bongivengo said.

The fifth grader then told police there was a suspicious black truck on the property that morning - possibly the man who feeds the cows - sending investigators to follow a false lead for about five hours, Bongivengo said.

Inconsistencies in Brown's description of the vehicle led police to re-interview the victim's 7-year-old daughter, who implicated the boy in the killing, Bongivengo said.

"She didn't actually eyewitness the shooting. She saw him with what she believed to be a shotgun and heard a loud bang," Bongivengo said. The gun was found in a "location we believe to be in the defendant's bedroom. It was a youth model ... shotgun."

"The 7-year-old was fearful and then, when she began talking, it became clear she was being consistent with what investigators had found," Bongivengo said.

By 3:30 a.m. Saturday, Brown had been charged as an adult with Houk's killing. Brown was arraigned and remains in Lawrence County Jail. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Thursday.

Dennis Elisco, Brown's attorney, said he met Saturday with the boy's father, Christopher Brown, and Bongivengo. He plans to file a motion Monday to have the boy released on bail and move the case to juvenile court.

Elisco and police said they had no clear motive for the shooting. Elisco said the boy's father is "a mess. He's in a state of actual shock and disbelief." There was no prior indication the boy had a problem with Houk, he added.

"An 11-year-old kid - what would give him the motive to shoot someone?," Houk's father, Jack, told the AP. "Maybe be was just jealous of my daughter and the baby and thought he would be overpowered." Later, Elisco said he met with Jordan in the county jail. He said he is waiting to see physical evidence that will tie Jordan Brown to the killing. At the moment, he said, the evidence points to the gunshot wound being "consistent" with the boy's hunting gun, but he wants to see stronger proof it was Jordan's.

"He's a typical 11-year-old kid and he looks 11 ... he was very happy to see his father and he wants to go home. I don't think he knows what's going on," Elisco said. "I walked out of there thinking he was innocent. I believe Jordan did not do this and I'm looking forward to see the physical evidence to see if it matches with what I think happened."

Bongivengo would not say whether the boy had confessed to the shooting.

Houk was shot from behind and less than a foot away as she lay on her side, Lawrence County Coroner Russell Noga said. The fetus, which was about 34 or 35 weeks old, died within minutes due to a lack of oxygen. The fetus was a 19.5 inch, 7.4 pound boy, he said.

The shotgun used in the killing is designed for children and has a shorter arm. Such weapons do not have to be registered, Bongivengo said, adding the weapon apparently belonged to Brown.

"It's typical of families that hunt and do those activities together," Bongivengo said. "It's really a hunting shotgun."

Houk was shot around 8 a.m. and probably died almost immediately, Noga said.

Police were not called until about 9 a.m. because Houk's 4-year-old daughter said she first watched cartoons and ate breakfast before going into her mother's room and finding her dead, Bongivengo said. Later, she told police she had not heard the gunshot, only "a muffled sound."

Houk's daughters are staying with Houk's parents, who live in New Castle, a town about 10 miles from Wampum. Dozens of friends and family members came to the house Saturday bringing food while a state trooper stood outside the home keeping the media away.

Inside, Jack Houk, 57, told the AP that the family had just gathered at his home Thursday night to celebrate his 4-year-old granddaughter's birthday. Everyone was excited about the pending birth of Kenzie's baby, and her father said he even joked about naming the baby boy Charlie after the illustrated Peanuts' character Charlie Brown.

"That's the last time I seen her, my daughter," Jack Houk said.

He said that Jordan Brown had been raised by his father and grandmother. Houk and the boy's father had been together since May 2008 and were engaged at Christmas, her father said. Jack Houk said the boy and his father used to practice shooting behind their farmhouse a lot, and the two enjoyed going hunting together.

He didn't know of any recent problems between the boy and his daughter, but said there had been "some tension" in the beginning. Houk said his daughter had been working hard to forge a relationship with the boy.

Kraner, Houk's brother-in-law, said that Jordan could be a rough kid. He said his son was interviewed by police about the boy.

The small rural community of Wampum is about 45 miles from Pittsburgh. Kenzie Houk rented the farmhouse, joining the neighborhood dotted with fields of cows and abandoned and burned-out trailers. The half-mile drive leading to the property was cordoned off with police tape early Saturday. A few police vehicles remained on the property, alongside farm equipment and an open barn filled with hay.

Cameron Tucker, 39, a neighbor who lived across the street from Houk, said the pregnant mother had been renting the home for no more than a year. Tucker's wife, Tara, sometimes drove Houk's 4-year-old daughter to the bus stop because she went to preschool with the Tuckers' 5-year-old. "She was very protective of her kids," he said of Houk, adding she seemed excited about her pregnancy.

Early Saturday, neighbors milled about outside their homes, watching the action around the Houk residence.

"The whole situation is heinous," Bongivengo said. "This is something that you wouldn't even think of in your worst nightmare, that you would have to charge an 11-year-old with the homicide of a 26-year-old."

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