Twelve-year-old Jordan Brown sat quietly in shackles through Friday’s courtroom proceedings which will eventually determine whether he must defend himself in adult or juvenile court.
Unfortunately, it appears this decision will be made by the judge no time soon. We were originally thinking the decision would come down in a month. Now we may be looking at two.
Judge Dominick Motto of the Lawrence County PA Common Pleas Court granted a 30 to 45 day continuance so the prosecution can conduct a psychological evaluation of Jordan—something the former prosecutor should have done before Jordan was even charged almost a year ago.
The whole legal process in Pennsylvania is bass-ackwards. We must first petition the court to transfer the case to juvenile court to determine innocence or delinquency (which is juve-talk for “guilt”). In order for the judge to consider this move, he must be convinced that Jordan is “amenable to rehabilitation” through the kinds of programs offered in juvenile prisons.
This puts us in the peculiar position of having to argue that Jordan can be rehabilitated—but to what purpose? He is innocent!
In arguing that he can be rehabilitated, we are forced to implicitly allow for the possibility that Jordan might have committed the crime. It leads to encounters like this, between our star witness and the prosecutor, which was published in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review after Friday’s hearing:
(Forensic psychologist Dr. Kirk) Heilbrun said Brown could be treated and poses a low threat of committing another crime.
During cross examination, (Deputy Attorney General Anthony J.) Krastek dismissed Heilbrun’s testimony because it did not consider the potential that Brown committed the murders.
“Did you ask him if he did it?” Krastek asked Heilbrun.
“Yes. He said he didn’t do it,” Heilbrun said.
Krastek asked Heilbrun if he was familiar with details of the case.
“Are you aware that she was shot in the back of the head with what appears to be Jordan’s shotgun? That she couldn’t have been more vulnerable or defenseless?” Krastek asked.
Heilbrun did not answer.
“She was executed, right?” Krastek asked.
Heilbrun paused before answering: “I don’t know if I would disagree with you. I guess my answer would be yes.”
Heilbrun was maneuvered by the prosecutor to allow that if Jordan were found guilty of the crime, his odds of recidivism would be “somewhat higher.” Yet Heilbrun has privately told Jordan’s dad and attorneys that he believes Jordan is telling the truth and is innocent.
But Heilbrun’s educated opinion about guilt or innocence is not admissible now and irrelevant to the decertification question before the court. This creates a confusing picture for the public.
“In Pennsylvania, you’re guilty until proven innocent,” Jordan’s former teacher said when he called to learn how the hearing had gone.
Dr. Heilbrun, who heads the psychology department at Drexel University, testified that he talked with Jordan for more than three hours last summer and described Jordan’s maturity level as ‘early adolescence.’ “In terms of judging, understanding, and impulse control…the adolescent brain does not function in a fully mature way,” Heilbrun said. Heilbrun told the court that Jordan is developmentally at least ten years from adulthood.
Defense witnesses, including Heilbrun and Jordan’s counselor at the Edmund L. Thomas Adolescent Detention Center in Erie, Christine McCullum, said Jordan is adjusting and behaving well in the Center, where he has been since early March.
McCullum said Jordan’s behavior in detention has been “extraordinary” given that he is so young and unknown in Erie County. She said his age and small stature made him the target of bullying on occasion in the detention center.
Krastek asked whether he is always the victim, or whether he sometimes becomes a bully himself, reading from a report by one of Jordan’s teachers in detention that said “it appears that Jordan does get angry quickly,” “he seldom shows remorse,” and “when caught doing something wrong, he tries desperately to get out of it” and pins the blame on others.
This was the only negative note from the detention center staff. Both Jordan and his father have had problems with this teacher, and she got her revenge by phrasing her report to support the prosecution’s theory of the crime. Punishment is the driving ethos of prisons and prison workers, even in youth prisons. “This is not the first time she has railroaded kids in her reports,” a staff member from the detention center told us.
The most serious revelation from the hearing, though, was when Heilbrun said Jordan is showing signs of depression and anxiety at the Erie juvenile facility where he has been held for nearly a year. Jordan “has heard voices others can’t hear.” In other words, damage is being done to this little boy. It can only get worse as the legal case drags on.
Heilbrun said that Jordan is a “strikingly average” pre-teen, something which should be very unsettling to parents of other average kids in Western Pennsylvania.
If Jordan can be wrongfully accused and abused by the state, then everyone’s kids are at risk.