NEW CASTLE, Pa. — A judge hearing the murder trial of a boy who was 11 when his father's pregnant fiancee and her unborn son were killed heard from a tree trimmer who says he called police after the victim's 4-year-old daughter emerged from the house and said, "My mommy's dead," the woman's father said Tuesday.
Jordan Brown, now 14, is charged in the February 2009 shotgun deaths of Kenzie Houk and her unborn child. The judge closed the trial to media and all but immediate family members because of the boy's age when Houk died.
Only glimpses of testimony were relayed as those relatives emerged from the courtroom in New Castle.
Jack Houk, Kenzie's father, told reporters during a lunch break Tuesday that the first few witnesses called helped set the scene on the day of the killings at the family's rural farmhouse in New Galilee. He called the testimony "horrible" and said he felt bad because the tree trimmer broke down in tears. The tree trimmer said he called authorities after Kenzie Houk's younger daughter came outside and told him her mother had been killed, Jack Houk said.
Prosecutors contend Brown took his 20-gauge youth-model shotgun and killed Kenzie Houk, 26, moments before he left for school with her 7-year-old daughter. Investigators have suggested Brown was jealous of Houk's unborn son, who died of oxygen deprivation after she was shot, execution-style. Houk was more than eight months pregnant when she died.
Brown's attorneys have promised to contest the criminal homicide charges, but how they'll do that remains unclear. The case was moved from Common Pleas Court, where Brown faced up to life in prison, to a juvenile setting, where the court's jurisdiction ends when he turns 21.
Deputy Attorney General Anthony Krastek said he can't comment on the proceedings now that they've been moved to juvenile court.
Jack Houk's sister, Barbara Bradley, told reporters that the family would prefer the trial be open to the media because they "want the public to know some stuff that maybe they won't be told" without the actual testimony being reported.
Neither Bradley nor several other family and friends of Kenzie Houk's were allowed in the courtroom. Many of them wore T-shirts that read "Support & Luv in memory of Kenzi & Baby Houk."
More than any particular verdict, Bradley said, "I just want this to be over. I hate seeing them have to deal with this all again," referring to Jack Houk and his wife.
A Brown family friend, however, said she believes the teen will be exonerated.
"We're here to support Jordan because we know he's innocent and we believe in him," said Dodi Frankovich, who had been sitting outside the courtroom.
Brown's father, Christopher, and other relatives couldn't be located for comment.
The trial is expected to last three or four days.
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 last year.
State law says juvenile court trials for certain serious felonies, including homicide, must be public if the defendant was at least 12 at the time of the crime, but judges have discretion to close trials for younger defendants.
The Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and the New Castle News appealed to keep the trial open in juvenile court given the publicity the case had already received, including a public proclamation of the boy's innocence by his father on "Good Morning America."
The Superior Court rejected the newspapers' claims that past publicity, including claims of Brown's innocence, made the pending verdict a matter of intense public interest, however.