Jordan Brown, now 16, has been in juvenile detention since being found responsible in the 2009 shooting deaths of Kenzie Houk and her unborn son in a case that made headlines because of both its chilling nature and the laws governing juvenile homicide suspects.
An appeals court threw out the juvenile court verdict, calling it "plainly contrary to the evidence," and sent the case back to a Lawrence County judge. Prosecutors appealed, leading to the high court arguments Wednesday.
Defense lawyer Dennis Elisco called the murder investigation faulty. He argued that investigators never searched the perimeter of the snowy yard for footprints, or explored what might have happened after Brown went to school that day.
There was a 45-minute gap between the time when the boy boarded a school bus and tree-trimmers discovered the crime scene.
"I guess something could have happened, but we don't have any evidence of it," Chief Deputy Attorney General James Barker told the justices.
Houk was shot in the back of the head with the boy's youth model shotgun. A shell case was found on the long driveway between the house and the road, where the school bus picked the boy up.
The shooting occurred after the boy's father left for work. Brown and Houk's two daughters, ages 7 and 4, also were in the house.
"No one, including police, even looked for footprints around the property," Elisco argued Wednesday. "I don't see any other remedy except the grant of a new trial."
The court did not indicate when it would rule.
Brown initially was charged as an adult as required by state law in homicide cases. Details of the case then became part of the public record and were widely reported as a result. His lawyers successfully appealed to Superior Court, which ordered a judge to reconsider Brown's adult status, and the case was moved to juvenile court.
A second Superior Court appeal was an unsuccessful attempt by three western Pennsylvania newspapers to open the trial to the public even though Lawrence County Judge John Hodge had the discretion to close the case because Brown was under 12 when the killings occurred.