EDITORIAL - Unjust treatment: An 11-year-old should not be tried as an adult

Written by Susan Mannella on .

In Pennsylvania, a child under the age of 10 is considered too young to be culpable in a crime. Courts also recognize that youths aged 10 through 17 are different from adults, so their cases automatically are handled in juvenile courts.

But not when it comes to murder.

All accused murderers are charged as adults, regardless of their age. And so Jordan Brown, who is 11, has been in the Lawrence County Jail since early Saturday.

The New Beaver boy is charged with two counts of homicide for the death of his father's girlfriend and her unborn baby and, according to police, the act was far from an accident. They said Jordan shot Kenzie Marie Houk in the back of the head with a shotgun; her baby died due to subsequent lack of oxygen.

This is as heinous a crime as can be imagined, but a key element nonetheless is that Jordan Brown is a child, no matter what he did, or how or why. That does not mean he should not be held accountable for his actions. It does mean he should not be housed in an adult jail or face trial in adult court.

Juvenile courts were established in the late 1800s based on the philosophy that children are inherently different from adults and that society has a responsibility to try to rehabilitate offenders.

In 2007, when 13-year-old Rachel Booth was charged with killing her abusive father as he slept, defense attorney Patrick Nightingale and Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. agreed to move her case to juvenile court. She was found delinquent on a misdemeanor count of involuntary manslaughter.

Jordan's case involves different circumstances; by all accounts, he was in a loving home with caring adults. But his actions, if nothing else, prove that he is deeply troubled and his age demands that he be treated differently from an adult. Lawrence County District Attorney John Bongivengo and defense attorney Dennis Elisco should agree on that.

Studies have shown that the human brain is not fully developed until about age 20. Researchers from the MacArthur Foundation studied 1,400 young people between ages 11 and 24, using a test that determines whether adults are competent to stand trial. They found that those between 11 and 13 were three times as likely to be incompetent as young adults from 18 to 24.

If Jordan had been arrested for shoplifting, his case would have been assigned to juvenile court, where he would not be absolved of responsibility but where his rehabilitation would be the goal. Surely a case that is far more serious demands to be handled in a system that recognizes that children are not just miniature adults.


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