dem eyes

I was watching the ABC story on the Internet for the first time on the day the story broke. This was the first time in over a year that Chris is speaking out publicly about Jordan’s innocence, and I was eager to see how he’d done.

The story had just been set up with a few establishing sequences of Kenzie, Jordan, the house, and the prosecutor, when from behind my shoulder Paul bursts, “Stop! Stop it and go back! Look at his eyes! He looked down-and-to-the-left. That prosecutor just lied!”

“Yeah, thanks man, but this is the first time I’m seeing this. Can we see it again at the end?”


At the end of the story—and I thought Chris did great—we replayed it again.

(Now former) Lawrence County Prosecutor John Bongivengo says, “You wouldn’t even think in your worse nightmare that you’d have to charge an eleven-year-old with homicide,” he turns his head from the camera, looks down and to the left, and moves backwards. Big deal.

“It is a big deal,” Paul protests. “Interrogators who watch the eyes can know when a witness is lying by the eye movements and body language,” he said. “That guy’s moves said that he just lied.”

Well, I haven’t read the same books as Paul and can’t say for sure from a several-second clip whether Bongivengo lied and the idea of prosecuting this case with no credible evidence and destroying innocent people’s lives did, in fact, come to him in a nightmare.

However his plan came to him, it is now beginning to emerge that Bongivengo may have had a larger part to play in the breach between the Houk and Brown families than may generally be appreciated.

Last week one of the local newspapers quoted someone in the Houk family as saying that Chris had never once reached out to them in the year since Kenzie’s murder. This is simply not true. More than a dozen times Chris had reached out through approved channels defined by the prosecution and the defense attorneys (which in this case was Bongivengo himself). Chris pleaded to be allowed to see the girls and their family, and Bongivengo always denied his requests.

More significantly, Bongivengo never informed the Houk family of Chris’ intentions and efforts, much less their relentless frequency. I confirmed yesterday with a close Houk family friend that they had no knowledge of this until my phone call. Apparently it better served the prosecutor’s purposes to keep a highly visible and destructive conflagration going between two families.

“Yeah, that’s the ticket,” you can almost imagine him saying. “Hatfields and McCoys. That’ll raise the temperature.” (Remember, he was trying to get re-elected.)

This is consistent, as well, with what now appears to have been Bongivengo’s prosecution strategy: to win over a jury with emotionally prejudicial stunts and tricks.

All his evidence says the kid didn’t do it; the only way to win this one is to keep stirring the coals and inflaming people’s passions. Nice job, John. Proud of yourself?

Chris read this quote about his “not reaching out” and asked a victim’s rights advocate if the Houks knew how steadfastly he’d tried to be with them. “No way, Chris,” he was told. “They don’t know.”

Chris called me yesterday and told me he’d been thinking about everything again, and trying to imagine what it would have been like for the Houks, over all this time, to think that he didn’t care enough about them to have reached out. All this time, he told me, Chris thought the Houks knew he was trying to contact them, and that he was being rebuffed.

He said he wanted to do something conciliatory.

Debbie Houk had objected to our use of Kenzie’s and the girls’ images on Jordan’s website and had even found a lawyer to send us a threatening letter. I had always maintained that because Jordan and Chris are blameless in Kenzie’s murder, it is therefore consistent that we acknowledge the family relationship which had been enjoyed by the five members of Kenzie’s and Chris’ household. Their family was a sacred thing that was destroyed by an as-yet-uncharged killer.

Anyway, I argued, those pictures are splashed all over the Internet. It’s fine to use Kenzie’s image to seek vengeance against a child whom Kenzie knows is innocent, and not okay to use her image as she would wish us to do? I’m sorry, it doesn’t compute.

Chris agreed with me—until now.

“Deb really has a big heart,” Chris said. If the pictures were adding to her heartbreak, he wanted them taken down.

Because I’d already had replacement pages prepared for this possibility, the change was made within an hour.

I’m happy that we are making this conciliatory move, but disappointed that visitors no longer have an opportunity to look into Kenzie’s eyes. Visitors are now prevented from making a connection with her.

If you think I am making too much of this, you may understand my perspective a little better when I tell you that for more than a decade after my wife Holly’s death I distributed thousands of new children’s books each year to schools and libraries free of charge. Oh yes, I did it for kids and reading and apple pie; but the real reason, the reason I sacrificed to do this, was to proliferate Holly’s picture, her identity, into the world and thus help ensure her immortality. A bookplate with her name, picture, and dates of birth and death was affixed to every book. Each bookplate has this marvelous portrait of Holly with her striking eyes providing a window to her soul. That’s why I did it. So she will be known and remembered.

I hope that people do not misconstrue the removal of Kenzie’s image from Jordan’s website as an attempt to sweep Kenzie’s memory or her love for Chris and her whole family (including Jordan) under the rug. I hope a day of reconciliation will come when we will put Kenzie’s picture back up on the website.

When that day does arrive, this is the picture I would put up (I found it on a Spanish-language website). I think the blue background in the picture everyone uses is kind of a downer. It doesn’t summon up the best in us. It keeps us down.

This one, I think, is more uplifting. She looks lovely, doesn’t she?

There’s hope ‘in dem eyes.’

2 Responses to “dem eyes”

  1. 1 Jeanne
    March 26, 2010 at 10:41 am

    “Dem eyes” look like a high school picture which makes me think about the unfairness of this entire case. They released a picture of little Jordan at 2:00 a.m.–scared, tired, and alone and then release a beautiful picture of the victim which appears to be a high school picture from years ago. ??? Also, I just want to say, my mom had the biggest heart in the world! I could never in a million years see my mom condemn an 11 year-old child. Never-ever, under know circumstances. Chris was very kind to notice something genuine in Mrs. Houk. I would hope that she can muster up the courage to look deeper into her heart and allow it open up her mind. Jesus Christ was also scared, tired, and alone on his last days on earth. We all need to remember this life is temporary, the Judge and Jury here on earth will one day be judged themselves.

    • March 26, 2010 at 3:50 pm

      Hi Jeanne,

      I think all of us must expect the best from everyone affected by this tragedy. The power of expectation is a very powerful force in people’s lives. If we expect little from them, they will tend to meet our expectations. If we expect much, they will tend to meet those expectations, too.

      What Chris is demonstrating by his example is that he expects Kenzie’s family can and will experience a change of heart as the truth becomes known. I think we should all support him by following his example and expect that her family will do the right thing.


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