Boy killer, aged 13, faces life imprisonment
Alleged murderer Jordan Brown may be tried as an adult. If found guilty, a life sentence with no parole awaits him. Is 70 years in prison fair?
According to the prosecution, Jordan Brown was eleven years old when he killed the sleeping Kenzie Houk in their rural farmhouse.
She was his father’s fiancée, and pregnant at the time. She was shot in the stomach, where Jordan’s own half-sibling was growing.
For this reason Jordan is charged with two counts of murder - or homicide as it’s called in America where the deaths occurred, in the state of Pennsylvania.
The boy owned a gun. It was a gift from his father, who apparently let him keep it in his room.
Jordan is now thirteen and in custody while judges decide whether he should be tried as an adult. If they choose this course, then a verdict of ‘guilty’ will leave him facing a sentence of life imprisonment without parole.
Parole offers the chance of a sentence being reduced; without it, life means life. This could result in Jordan Brown spending the next seventy years behind bars.
In Pennsylvania, juvenile suspects in homicide cases are automatically tried as adults unless the judge decides otherwise. In this case, the judge says he must be tried as an adult because he has refused to admit guilt. His defence say he is innocent until proved guilty.
The case has raised questions about how juvenile offenders are treated in the US. Human rights group Amnesty International said that Brown is the youngest person they know of anywhere in the world facing a life sentence without possibility of parole.
The Washington-based Sentencing Project is also concerned. They say that the US is the only country that has juveniles serving life without parole. ‘That leads to only two conclusions: either kids in the US are far more violent than those in the rest of the world, or the US has developed uniquely harsh sentences.’
A question of guilt
So should Jordan Brown be tried as an adult? Can an 11 year old be responsible for their actions?
The family of Kenzie Houk have no doubt. ‘He knew what he was doing. He killed my baby,’ said her mother. And many agree. ‘He should get the death penalty,’ said a blogger. ‘If you murder a couple of people, I don’t care who you are or how old you are.’
Others claim that Jordan’s inner state - expressed in such hate towards the woman and child - was not his doing. ‘Only a loveless environment could create such a sense of threat in the boy,’ said one psychologist. ‘And children don’t create their environments.’
- Who in this story could be said to be guilty?
- ‘Some people will never be productive citizens, however much you help them.’ Discuss.
- Get in a group and create a TV debate about the future - and the past - of Jordan Brown. A presenter handles the debate, bringing in those who want to speak, and making sure everyone is heard.
- You are the judge in this case. You must decide whether or not to try Jordan Brown as an adult. Reflect on the matter, make your decision and then write your speech to the waiting media to explain why you have made it.
Some People Say...
“Some people just need to be taken out of the population”
What do you think?
Q & A
- So are there others like Jordan Brown in the US?
- There are at least 2,500 young people in America serving life imprisonment without parole for crimes committed when they were under 18.
- It must seem like an unimaginably long time to them.
- Yes, that’s what Jordan’s father said: ‘Try to explain to a 12-year-old what the rest of your life means. It's incomprehensible for him.’
- But what was happening in his head when – and if - he fired?
- Well, one way to think of it is that most of us have gatekeepers in our minds - there to forbid certain thoughts being acted out. The most dangerous people often lack these gatekeepers and, without them, all thought is acted out whether you’re 11 or 25.
- What happens in the UK?
- In England children over 10 are deemed responsible if they commit crimes. But this is one of the lowest thresholds in Europe.