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What happened after an 11-year-old boy was accused of murdering his pregnant stepmother?



On the morning of February 20, 2009, Chris Brown was a little late for work.

It was a cold day in Wampum, a small town in western Pennsylvania. Brown said his fiancé Kenzie Houk, who was eight and a half months pregnant at the time, asked him to stay with her that day, but decided to go to work.

That decision, he said to "20/20," is "something that haunts me."

Brown and Houk have known each other since their youth and wanted to marry soon. This was their first child together – a little boy they had already called Christopher.

"She was thrilled, she wanted that," said Houk's mother Debbie Houk on "20/20". "The clothes were washed, the bed was ready … diapers were where they should be and everything, yes, they were ready."

  Kenzie Houk, seen here in this undated family photo, and Chris Brown were engaged when she was killed. Courtesy of Chris Brown
Kenzie Houk, seen here in this undated family photo, and Chris Brown were engaged when she was killed.

The two of them, plus Brown's then-11-year-old son Jordan and Houk's two daughters, then-7-year-old daughter Jeressa and then-4-year-old daughter Adalynn, all dating back to their previous relationships, were all in one together recently Farmhouse pulled.

The mixed family seemed to combine. Jordan said he and Houk have a strong relationship, and he even called her "Mom."

"She was really nice, I liked her very much," Jordan Brown said "20/20." "I was happy [about the baby] … I always wanted a little brother and … it was a boy That's what I would get. "

  A young Jordan Brown can be seen here in this undated family photo. Courtesy of Chris Brown
A young Jordan Brown can be seen here in this undated family photo.

Houk, a hairdresser and housewife, slept in a bedroom on the ground floor at that time, which was to be turned into Jordan's room after the baby's birth. Jordan, who had a bedroom upstairs, had already pulled his clothes into the downstairs bedroom.

The morning of February 20, 2009, Jordan Brown said, was "just a normal morning" as he got ready for school.

"My sister Henessa woke me up," said Jordan Brown. "[I] went downstairs, got my clothes, went to the bathroom, got dressed and we just sat … waiting on the couch in the living room and then Kenzie told us to go because the bus is coming and we will So we hurried and went through the back door and ran down the driveway to school. "

At 8:15, Jordan said that he and Jenessa had left the house to catch the school bus.

At 9 o'clock in the morning tree-cleaning workers came around the house. Shortly thereafter, one of the tree trimmers spotted the little Adalynn in the door, sobbing and saying her mother was dead. The Tree Trimmer named 911.

  Adalynn Houk can be seen here in the undated family photo. Courtesy of Chris Brown
Adalynn Houk can be seen here in the undated family photo.

Pennsylvania State Police Corporal Jeffrey Martin, who is now retired, says he is one of the first responders on the scene. They found Houk in the bedroom, he said, first thinking she had a medical emergency.

"At this point, we assumed she had somehow suffered bleeding," Martin said to "20/20." "We did not touch them, we did not move them, at which point we try to maintain the integrity of the scene."

It was not until the coroner arrived and started taking pictures that Martin realized that they were realizing that this was something else.

"I was standing right on the edge of the door, and I remember the coroner saying," When we start to touch the body, we have a problem, "" said Martin. "And then we realized it was a murder."

  The farmhouse in Wampum, where Chris Brown lived with his fiancée Kenzie Houk, his son Jordan Brown and their two daughters Janessa and Adalynn Posted by ABC News
The farmhouse in Wampum, where Chris Brown lived fiancée Kenzie Houk, his son Jordan Brown and their two daughters Janessa and Adalynn

The police found that Houk had been shot in the back of the head. They tried CPR, but it was too late.

"Murder, something of that magnitude was very, very unusual," said Martin. "In my 25 years, I believe that it was the only one in this area that I can remember."

The police called Chris Brown at a local tableware company while he was working in the shipping department and asked him to come home immediately.

"They told me that she and the baby were gone and I remember collapsing in the yard," Brown said. "I lost it."

Troy Steinheiser, now retired Police Corporal, interviewed Chris Brown at the state police barracks. Brown's hands were wiped for gunpowder scraps and returned clean. The police also confirmed that he had been at work during the shootout, so they quickly eliminated him as a suspect.

In the meantime, the officers also went to Mohawk Elementary School to talk to Jenessa and Jordan. Both children were interviewed and police said that nothing out of the ordinary had happened that morning. Jordan, however, said he remembered seeing a black truck near the garage.

"I did not think anything about it, you know, it's just a truck," he said "20/20." "I thought, you know, it was just a guy working there or something, but that's why I told you. "

Later that night, when Chris and Jordan Brown had finally dozed off at around 3:30, they were surprised by a knock on the door.

It was the police. They had an arrest warrant against Jordan.

"I just remember they came and picked me up at 3 in the morning," Jordan Brown said. "[They] put me in the back of the car and they took me to the police barracks and I was in there, and then they took me straight to the county jail and I had no idea where we were going, I was not with anyone It was only a few strangers who were dragging me around. "

Just 18 hours earlier, Chris Brown lost his fiancé and unborn child. Now he lost his son.

The arrest of an 11-year-old for murder quickly caught the attention of the media, and suddenly Wampum, Pennsylvania, had a city of about 600 people, millions of eyes on it.

"This mug shot of Jordan Brown, who became an icon of history, spread all over the world," said Pittsburgh-based WTAE reporter Bob Mayo.

When his mug shot was taken, Jordan Brown said he had been crying all night. Only a fifth grader at the time, he said, he does not understand what he was accused of.

"I did not understand what happened, I did not know where I was, what was going on or something," he said.

The police said what was really the case for them was additional interviews they had with Jeressa and Jordan on the night of the murders.

"When we interview someone, expect them to give their account, wait a bit, we interview them again, and they should report the same thing, and I do not know if that happened in this case," Martin said ,

In fact, the police said in his second interview, Jordan changed his description of the black truck and added that there was a person in a hat and ducked.

When Jeressa was interviewed again, police said she had an amazing memory. The police said she told them that Jordan had moved his weapons this morning.

"[Then] she told me, as she waited down on Jordan to come down and get the school bus, as they usually do, she heard a big bang and she identified him as the sound of a gun" he added retired Pennsylvania State Police trooper Bobby McGraw.

  Janessa Houk can be seen here in this undated family photo. Courtesy of Chris Brown
Janessa Houk can be seen here in this undated family photo.

Jordan refused "20/20" when he did anything with his weapons that morning and said, "I never touched them."

Martin said the autopsy report revealed that Houk was killed with a shotgun and she had a single bullet wound on the back of her head.

"I never expected the murder weapon to be a shotgun," Martin said. "It's more of a weapon of opportunity, it's not a weapon anyone will carry across the field or carry a driveway, it's three feet long."

In the Browns' house, the police found a collection of handguns, rifles, and ammunition. They also found a 20-gauge shotgun that belonged to Jordan Brown. Investigators on the case said "20/20" in rural Pennsylvania: "It's quite common, most – especially young men – would grow up learning firearms."

"We had a youth model shotgun in the house that smelled like it was fired recently," Martin said.

But he added that Jordan's hands were never checked for gunpowder residue.

  In the family home, the police found small arms, rifles, several rounds of ammunition, and a child-size shotgun belonging to Jordan. By ABC News
In the family home, police had found small arms, rifles, several rounds of ammunition, and a child-size shotgun that belonged to Jordan.

The police also said they found a 20-gauge shotgun armor next to the family driveway the next day in pristine condition. Trooper McGraw thought Jordan threw the grenade to the ground as he walked to the bus on the morning of the killings.

"He kept talking about … a piece of fluff and" I took it out of my bag and I threw it. "In my opinion, he focused on the shotgun shells he threw after leaving the residence," McGraw said.

  The police found several ammunition remains in the family's farmhouse. By ABC News
The police found several ammunition remains in the family's farmhouse.

Jordan's motive, McGraw believed, was that he was jealous of the new baby.

"In my opinion [it was] jealousy, jealousy of the impending birth," he said.

Following the arrest, prosecutor John Bongivengo told reporters that he was confident in his case against Jordan Brown.

"It's hard to assassinate an 11-year-old with murder, you need to be sure enough to burden him," Bongivengo said to "20/20."

At a time when the headlines called Jordan "the youngest monster in the world," he was at an age when he still believed in Santa Claus. Elisco said the nickname "fueled the media hype and presumption of guilt that persevered the case."

At the beginning of the investigation, a number of people, including Chris Brown, told the police to look at another person – Houk's six-year-old ex-boyfriend, Adam Harvey.

"The police asked me if there was anyone out there I thought he had done anything with, and the first person that came to mind was Adam Harvey, she was afraid of him," said Chris Brown.

  Kenzie Houk is here with one of her daughters in this undated family photo. Courtesy of Chris Brown
Kenzie Houk is here with one of her daughters in this undated family photo

Kenzie Houk and her family had a protection order against Harvey after claiming he had left messages, they threatened to kill her and her family.

Harvey rejected these allegations by the police.

Harvey also drove a black truck. But when the police dragged him into the truck on the day of the killings, they found that he could not have made the nearly 24-mile drive to Houk's house and back to his neighborhood because there was still snow on the hood. He also claimed that he did not know where Houk lived.

"We can not get over the fact that Adam Harvey did not have the time to go there and have the snow on his car," Martin said.

The authorities said that they have also tested Harvey's hands for the presence of gunfire and found none.

But what the police found out during their interview with Harvey was that he had recently discovered the 4-year-old Adalynn, who was believed to be both his and Houk's daughter, in reality not a biological child.

He confirmed to the authorities that he and Houk had argued about money. She wanted financial help for Adalynn, but he had refused to say that he first wanted proof that the child was his.

"I saw a gentleman crying," said Martin. "Even with the relationship they had, Adam was still in love with Kenzie, I guess you could speculate about that, but with my years interviewing people, he cried for her."

The authorities said that Harvey cooperated during the investigation and agreed to take a polygraph. Harvey told the police that he did no harm to Houk and told them he was sleeping at home when she was killed. His father confirmed his alibi and confirmed Harvey's story that he was with them.

Within a day, Harvey was cleared as a suspect.

"He has someone who says he's home and the trooper who interviewed him said the truck does not look like it was driven and we took pictures of the truck" said Martin. "It's the totality of circumstances, you have to look at everything as an investigator."

"It's such a small window and such an unlikely situation that one, he found out where she lived, he knew the doors were not locked, he knew there was a 20-gauge shotgun, Bongivengo added that they are in the house and arrive there after all have left, before it's snowing without a trace and passing by the trees chopping boys, which seems very unlikely. "

While waiting for his trial, Jordan Brown spent three years at the Edmund L. Thomas Youth Center, a juvenile detention center in Erie County, Pennsylvania.

  Chris Brown said he drove 230 miles every day to see his son in custody. Courtesy of Chris Brown
Chris Brown said he drove 230 miles back and forth every day to see his son

Chris Brown said he rode every day, 230 miles round trip to see his son in the middle. He had to drive four hours every day, he said, to visit Jordan because he was "my son."

Jordan Brown said these visits are a lifeline: "I do not know what I would have done without them."

"They played a big role [role] and kept my head straight," he said.

However, the daily journey devastated his finances, Chris Brown said.

"It cost me my work, and what money I brought in went into the gas tank and went into things he needed," said Chris Brown.

And focusing on the legal plight of his son, Chris Brown said his grief over the loss of his fiancé and unborn child had to take a back seat.

"[I] had no chance to mourn properly," said Chris Brown.

Over the years, Jordan Brown said he spent much of his time reading the books his father had brought him and reading a dictionary next to him.

"If I read something and come across a word I do not know, [I would] look at it, so I know what I wanted to say, and then I read like that," he said. "I was a big fantasy reader … It was a whole different world, I would get lost in the book … The time flew when you read."

  During his imprisonment, Jordan taught himself to play the guitar and said he had become a pretty good basketball player. Courtesy of Chris Brown
During his detention, Jordan learned to play the guitar and said he was a pretty good basketball

While Jordan Brown was still in prison in Erie, his father kept asking him whether he killed Houk.

"I gave him every opportunity. [I’d say,] Jordan, listen, if anything happens, accidents happen, mate, you know, if something happened, tell me, I will not be mad at you, I'm yours Father, I will never be your father, I will never be here every day, "said Chris Brown.

"[He] has never changed its history, you know, [he] has kept its innocence from day one," he added.

But Houk's family remains convinced that Jordan is guilty and that he should receive maximum punishment and try out as an adult.

Houk's mother Debbie Houk said "20/20," "Jordan is a murderer, and I'll say it, and his father has to look in the mirror and in the mirror every morning, saying," I'm the father of a murderer . "

More than two years after Jordan Brown was charged, a judge ruled that his case would be transferred from adult to juvenile court, where instead of having life in jail, he would drop out much earlier. It would be another eight months before Jordan was tried for double murder.

The process lasted three days. By then, Bongivengo had been replaced by another prosecutor. Jenessa's statements to the police have never been brought to justice, nor has she testified.

Nevertheless, a judge at the juvenile court, Jordan Brown, 14 at the time, was criminal.

"A judge locating a juvenile offender is actually a guilty verdict, which means I'm being tried in a juvenile court, and I find you responsible for this crime," said Dan Abrams, Chief Legal Analyst at ABC News.

"I can remember that I only looked at Jordan and felt like we'd let him down, and he was so sorry right now," Colafella said. "And I only remember how I looked at him and thought, 'How can this child have more hope?'

During his imprisonment, Jordan taught himself to play guitar and said he had become a pretty good basketball player.

Jordan Brown's lawyers announced that they would appeal two months after his conviction. But it would be another three and a half years before his appeal was heard by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

His lawyers say the police never proved that Jordan Brown's shotgun was the murder weapon. They argue that the particles of gunpowder on his shirt and trousers may have come from the jacket he'd worn for a recent turkey drive. The forensic prosecutor even said that these particles could be transferred. And then Jordan's defenders pointed to the soldiers who said that Jordan's shotgun smelled as if it had just been fired when they arrived at the house that morning.

"These law enforcement officers who said they smelled [that the gun] were recently fired, they admitted that they had no expertise or education," said Jordan's attorney Dennis Elisco.

As for the shotgun the police found near the driveway, Colafella said, "On the property where they lived on a farm, shotgun shells were scattered all over the place, routinely shot on this property was not significant. "

Another issue that Jordan's lawyers addressed was that there was no blood or tissue on the gun or Jordan Brown's clothing that day.

"It is almost unthinkable to suggest that a shotgun was fired at close range … no tissue, no blood on the barrel of the gun, or on his clothes he was wearing to school," Elisco said. "It was horrifying for me that they seemingly ignored this fact throughout the case."

But the prosecution expert said that the angle at which the pistol was fired could have minimized what is referred to as recoil.

"That's what should have happened," added Colafella. "Jordan Brown sat with his step-sister Jeressa in a room next to the victim's room, ran up the stairs, grabbed a shotgun, loaded her with a shotgun, went to the bed, put the shotgun against her head, Pull Pulling off the trigger, killing them, somehow managed to wipe everything out – body fluid or blood could have been at the bottom of that gun, bringing it up, replacing it on the wall, removing the shell, running down while her sister probably ran it was waiting for him in this very small house … leaving everything without a single hint. "

"Everything they really arrested was mostly Jenessa's testimony," Elisco said. "Over time, they've completely abandoned this statement, which would have been the strongest evidence in this case, and instead tried to prosecute based on this forensic evidence."

Houk's younger daughter Adalynn, whom Baumtrimmer sobbed about when she discovered her mother's body, has never talked about it publicly. Until now.

In an exclusive interview with "20/20," she shared her own account of what had happened that morning of February 20, 2009, and some of them contradict the police timeline.

That day, she said she remembered being awakened by a shot.

"I was so young, I did not know what that sound was," said Adalynn, who was 4 years old and is now 13 years old. "I just wanted to go in to wake her up [Kenzie Houk]. And her phone rang. "

She remembered that she had picked up her mother's phone and answered. She said that the person at the other end of the queue had asked her to speak with her mother, so she went to the downstairs bedroom to get her.

"I went in to wake her up and her face was facing me," Adalynn said. "I was just like that," Hey mom, wake up. And as I made her own, I realized – I would come to the conclusion, what had happened.

"And I went outside, and I had asked the tree-men who felled trees." Do you know the number of my grandmother? "And they said, 'no'," she said. "I went back to the house and I remember a very nice policeman who had put me on the chair and he told me everything would be fine and I just sat there and cried."

The tree trimmers saw Adalynn sometime after 9 o'clock in the morning. And if you go to Adalynn's account, it means that everything, including the killings, has long happened to Jordan and Jenessa, who left the house and were on their way to school.

Her family says Adalynn shared parts of her story over the years, but neither the police nor the defenders of Jordan have ever heard that. The police had tried to talk to Adalynn when they arrived at the house, but reported that she was in a state of shock and could not give coherent answers. Jordan's defenders say their timeline means that Jordan was not there when Houk was killed, but Martin, who handled the case, says after so many years that he does not find Adalynn's account believable.

Jordan Brown spent seven summers in custody and was released in 2016 when he was 18 years old.

In July 2018, the court sided with Jordan Brown and wrote that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania had failed to blame Jordan Brown without any doubt.

Jordan's conviction was overturned. In a rare move, the Pennsylvania High Court ruled that "there was insufficient evidence" to prosecute the case. While the decision did not declare him innocent, it can not be repeated.

"I was happy, it felt like a big weight was taken from me, it was a nightmare for nine and a half years," said Chris Brown.

  Jordan Brown, who studies college and studies computer science, is determined to leave his past behind. Courtesy of Chris Brown
Jordan Brown, who attends college and studies computer science, is determined to leave his past behind.

"I'm 100 percent, you know, a whole, clean slate, everything is gone and that made me happy, finally the truth is finally out," said Jordan Brown.

Asked what message he had for the police who arrested his son, Chris Brown said, "Shame on you," is probably the most polite way to say it. "

"You've taken the childhood of an 11-year-old from him, you know, you've basically ruined his name, I mean, you google # Jordan Brown & you get the photo that pops up ", he said.

Jordan Brown said he has "mixed feelings" about what happened to him.

"It bothered me all the time, I used to hate it, but then I came to the point where it did not bother me at all, I did not care, but now I'm kinda, I sometimes go back and forth I think, "he said.

  Jordan Brown (right), seen here with his father Chris Brown (left), was released at the age of 18. Courtesy of Chris Brown
Jordan Brown (right), here with his father Chris Brown (left), was released when he turned 18 in 2015.

As for Chris, he still mourns the loss of Houk and her unborn son. "I still love her, I miss her every day," he said.

"I'll be honest with you, I suffer from PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder]," Chris Brown continued. "It's a kind of bittersweet feeling, you know? [I’m] Happy that part of it is over with Jordan, you know, wrongly accused, but still, this side that suffered from the loss and had no answers knew that he was falsely accused and the way the prosecutor and the investigators proceeded with the inadequate investigation … I think, has just ruined us [from] ever having the closure and the person who did that and for the person who did that to pay for it. "

Retired Pennsylvania State Police trooper Bobby McGraw said he was still confident that Jordan Brown had committed the killings.

"This case was investigated by some of the best police officers in the country, quite simple, and none of us wanted to handcuff an 11-year-old, so the case took us there, and I never looked back to arresting the wrong person And in my opinion, every soldier who investigated this case feels the same way, we did not misunderstand it, "McGraw said," 20/20. "" There is no soldier on this day Stage, who lost a second of sleep in this case. "

Jordan Brown, who attends college and studies computer science, is determined to leave his past behind and prepare for brighter days.

"I just want to be successful, I just want to go to college, you know, get a job in my major and, I do not know, just succeed," Jordan Brown said.

"My biggest hopes for him are that he feels good, that he's moving forward, that people are watching and what it is, what it really is," said Chris Brown. "Read this Order of the Supreme Court and realize that this child has acted wrongly."


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