10/06/2011

Vengeance at its most shameful

Jordan Brown, a resident of western Pennsylvania, is charged with shooting Kenzie Marie Houk and her unborn child. Police say that Brown shot her once at point blank range. Today, a  judge ruled [thanks to Doc Berman via Gamso] that the prosecution against Brown can remain in his court and denied the defense’s motion for transfer of venue.
Jordan Brown is 12. At the time of the death of Houk, he was 11.
I repeat. Jordan Brown is 12. And a judge ruled that he can be tried as an adult. A state in these United States is about to prosecute an eleven year old as an adult murderer.
Here is a file picture of him, taken from CNN. Look at it. This cherubic 12 year old now faces life in prison. The rest of the post after the photo and the jump.
That this decision – to deny a transfer to juvenile court – is an abomination is an understatement. This decision makes Brown the youngest child charged as an adult anywhere in America.
The reasoning for doing so is even more shameful.
Since being charged with the murder of his father’s fiance, Jordan Brown, through his defense attorneys, has asserted his innocence.
Largely because of those denials, a Lawrence County judge ruled Monday that Brown, now 12 years old, will stand trial as an adult.
In his 17-page decision, [Judge Dominick] Motto ruled that the defense failed to meet its burden, in large part because Brown’s continued denials in the crime show an unwillingness to take responsibility for his actions, a necessary factor in rehabilitation.
Motto said that point was established by both forensic psychologists in the case — John O’Brien, who testified for the prosecution, and Kirk Heilbrun, the defense’s expert — who testified in de-certification hearings Jan. 29 and March 12
That the burden is on the defense to show that the child is capable of rehabilitation and is not a danger to society is absurd. The state of the law belies a fundamental misunderstanding about the nature and manner of the child psychology and the development of the human mind.
But again, this is an 11-12 year old we’re talking about. The law in Pennsylvania is that anyone above the age of 10 (10!!!) can be tried as an adult. In Connecticut, the threshold is 14.
To compound the travesty that is the untenably low age threshold and the burden on the defense to show something that should be presumed, the Judge then relies on the lack of “acceptance of responsibility” of an 11-12 year old to justify his decision to treat him like a full-grown adult. This is  judicial cowardice of the worst kind.
To say that in order to be treated as a juvenile, a child must display the kind of emotional maturity that most adults in the system are unable to display well into their 40s and then use the lack of that adult development to justify treating the child as an adult is mind-bogglingly contradictory and stupid.
The prosecutor gets no points, either. He, seemingly honestly, states:
“This is something that you wouldn’t even think of in your worst nightmare, that you’d have to charge an 11-year-old with homicide,” [Lawrence County District Attorney John] Bongivengo told a local CNN affiliate in Pittsburgh when Houk was killed in February 2009. “It’s heinous, the whole situation.”
This statement rings hollow. If this is your worst nightmare, John Bongivengo, then do something about it. If the decision is truly with the court to decide whether to transfer the case back to juvenile court, then side with the defense in urging the judge to do so. Don’t file a brief and argue that your relatively inexperienced “expert” correctly concluded that there is “very limited” capacity for juvenile treatment.
I understand the reasons for permitting juveniles to be tried as adults in the most serious of crimes. You do adult things, you face adult consequences. But to bring an 11-year old under aegis of such legal chicanery is appalling.
In most murder prosecutions – and certainly in death penalty prosecutions – vengeance is a driving factor. Punishment and revenge rule the day. But this is not the place for it and certainly an 11-year old is not a worthy object of the collective wrath of the adult criminal justice system.
It is a tragedy that Houk died and her unborn child along with it. But allowing this prosecution to continue does nothing but add to the utter destruction these people’s lives have already experienced. There is no need for vengeance here, but rather for the stern understanding displayed by a disappointed parent toward an unknowing, developmentally undeveloped adolescent.
When the law provides for him to be punished as juvenile for the next 10-11 years of his life, seeking to have as 12 year old incarcerated for the remainder of his natural life smells of nothing but shameful bloodlust.
As an 11-year old, Jordan Brown would still be in middle school. Maybe he just started noticing girls. Maybe he still wants to be a policeman or firefighter. He probably hasn’t stopped growing. And here we are, the best justice system in the world, condemning him to the possibility of spending the rest of his life in jail.
If this isn’t cruel and unusual, I don’t know what is.
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