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Court: Trial for Penn. boy accused of killing his dad's girlfriend to be closed

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 5:53 PM EST, Fri February 24, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Authorities say Jordan Brown, then 11, shot and kiled his father's pregnant girlfriend in 2009
  • Initially charged as an adult, a Pennsylvania judge then ruled he'd be tried as a juvenile
  • 3 Pennsylvania newspapers argued Brown's proceedings should be open to the public
  • A Superior Court opinion says they'll be closed to assure the accused boy's privacy

(CNN) -- A Pennsylvania court has ordered that the juvenile trial of Jordan Brown -- a boy accused of killing his father's pregnant girlfriend three years ago -- be closed, despite a push by several newspapers to allow public access.

Brown was 11 in February 2009 when, authorities say, he shot Kenzie Marie Houk, 26, once at point-blank range in her western Pennsylvania farmhouse. She was eight months pregnant at the time.

He was initially charged as an adult, facing the prospect of life in prison without parole. But on August 23, 2011, Lawrence County Judge Dominick Motto reversed his earlier ruling so that Brown would instead face a juvenile proceeding.

A judge later ordered that these upcoming proceedings must be closed to the public. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and New Castle News newspapers subsequently filed an appeal, arguing that the public has a constitutional right to access the courts even when juveniles are involved.

Pennsylvania's Superior Court issued a 33-page ruling on Wednesday, that was obtained Friday by InSession from CNN's sister network truTV, regarding the appeal.

The opinion, written by Judge Jacqueline Shogan, acknowledges that there "has been some recent tendency to permit publicity (of) juvenile court proceedings on the theory that this will act as a curb to juvenile delinquency."

But the court also expressed concerns that the harm caused by publicizing juvenile proceedings "may be great."

The order references an effort to maintain Jordan's privacy, finding that "there is no alternative short of closure of the juvenile court proceedings" that will do so.

"Closure of the juvenile proceedings, under the constitutional analysis, serves a compelling government interest and ... there is no less restrictive means to serve that interest," Shogan wrote in the opinion.

Given the high-profile nature of the case, CNN is identifying Brown by name even though he is a juvenile.

Investigators say Houk was killed with a bullet fired from a youth model 20-gauge shotgun that belonged to Brown.

The pregnant woman's 4-year-old daughter found her in her bed, according to police. The girl alerted landscapers working near the home, who then called authorities.

Brown, who was living with his father at the time of the shooting, was subsequently charged with one count each of criminal homicide and homicide of an unborn child.

The charges were initially filed in an adult court because, according to Pennsylvania state law, anyone older than 10 who has committed a murder or homicide is automatically tried as an adult. The defense then must present a sufficient case to move a case to juvenile court.

At the time, Brown was thought to be the youngest person facing a life sentence without the possibility of parole, according to an Amnesty International statement.

InSession's Jessica Thill contributed to this report.

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