Step-Mom Murder Details Chill Appeals Court

     (CN) — Affirming the conviction of an 11-year-old boy for shooting to death his eight-months-pregnant future step-mom, a Pennsylvania appeals court told how the child calmly boarded his school bus after the murder.
     Though the Pennsylvania Superior Court abbreviated the names of the killer and his victim in its Sept. 1 ruling, the details of the case align with the Feb. 20, 2009, murder of 26-year-old Kenzie Houk.
     Houk was eight months pregnant and living in Wampum, Pa., with her fiance, Jim Brown; Brown’s 11-year-old Jordan, and Houk’s two children, ages 4 and 7.
     The ruling says Jordan was switching bedrooms with the couple because they needed the room adjoining his for a nursery.
     On the snowy morning of Feb. 20, Jim went to work before 7, and Jordan boarded the school bus at about 8:13 with the 7-year-old. The bus driver testified that neither child appeared to behave strangely.
     But when a tree-service crew showed up at the house at 9, one of the workers observed Houk’s 4-year-old daughter crying at the door that her mother was dead.
     Police arrived to find Houk lying on the bed downstairs in a pool of blood. She had been shot in the back of the neck. Her unborn baby was pronounced dead as well.
     While troopers were investigating, the nurse at Jordan’s school called Houk’s phone to say that the boy was sick and wanted to come home.
     One of the officers went to the school to interview Jordan and the 7-year-old while investigators at the scene took inventory of all the guns in the house.
     The .20 gauge shotgun “smelled” freshly used, one sergeant believed. Jordan later told police that gun, a youth-model Richardson, was his. Investigators concluded it was the murder weapon.
     Police arrested Jordan at 3:30 the next morning and charged him with two counts of criminal homicide. A forensic expert found gunshot residue on his clothes.
     Jim Brown testified that his son had a close relationship with Houk and that police should focus on his fiancee’s ex, Adam Harvey.
     On the night before the murder, Harvey had a verbal altercation with Houk’s parents at a nightclub. Houk and her family had a protection order against the man because he had allegedly threatened to kill them.
     Harvey denied the allegations, however, and he told police he did not know where the victim lived.
     Jordan meanwhile told police he saw a black truck parked beside his house when he left for school, and officers found Harvey on the day of the murder in a black pickup truck.
     Harvey had an alibi, however, and he tested negative for gunshot residue.
     After concluding that the snow on his vehicle’s roof would have blown away if he had driven to and from the victim’s house, police eliminated him as a suspect.
     The juvenile court found Jordan delinquent on the homicide counts, and the Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed on Sept. 1.
     “The juvenile court found it unrealistic that an unidentified assailant could have entered the residence, located [Jordan’s] shotgun upstairs, located the ammunition in the armoire downstairs, murdered [Houk], replaced the shotgun upstairs, discarded the shell by the driveway, and left undetected,” Judge Victor Stabile wrote for a three-judge panel.
     Stabile also noted that the lack of fingerprints on the gun indicates that whoever fired it had wiped it clean.
     “The presence of [Jordan’s] fingerprints on his own shotgun would have been unsurprising and not necessarily incriminating,” the 33-page opinion states. “The total absence of fingerprints renders the gun suspicious, especially since it smelled as if it had been recently fired.”
     Stabile noted holes in the record as to how Houk’s daughters must have heard the gunshot blast, and whether Jordan kept the girls out of the downstairs bedroom before leaving for school.
     “We do not envy the juvenile court’s difficult task of deciding whether an 11-year-old child was capable of such a gruesome and calculated crime,” Stabile wrote. “However, under the standards governing appellate court review of weight and sufficiency of the evidence challenges, we discern no reversible error in the juvenile court’s decision.”
     Judge Judith Ference Olson joined the opinion, but Senior Judge John L. Musmanno noted his dissent. There is no dissenting opinion.

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