Here is a question for every reader of this editorial: When you were 11 years old, were you the man or woman that you are today or were you still just a child?
The answer should come very easily. If you were an adult at age 11, with the requisite emotional maturity, intellectual judgment and fully formed moral reasoning of an adult, then you are a rare being, even in this precocious era.
This same question will confront Lawrence County President Judge Dominick Motto today when he considers the case of Jordan Brown, now 12 but only 11 when he was charged with a heinous crime. Prosecutors say he used a 20-gauge shotgun to kill Kenzie Marie Houk, his father's pregnant fiancee, as she lay in bed.
This is a heart-rending case. But although two lives have been lost -- the fiancee and her unborn baby -- the answer to the fundamental question remains the same. By any sensible reckoning, Jordan Brown was a child when this crime was committed and he should be tried as a juvenile, not as an adult.
It is true that if he is tried as a juvenile and found guilty, he cannot by law be held beyond age 21. That may seem a light punishment for such a serious crime, but punishment is not the only point. The chance of redemption also is important.
Besides, to be deserving of adult punishment, a defendant needs to have the capacity of being fully culpable of a crime. An 11-year-old boy manifestly isn't. He is, however, capable of growing up to a be a different, better person.
St. Paul recognized this when he wrote to the Corinthians long ago, "When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things." For over a hundred years, the juvenile justice system has also recognized the great truth that children think and understand as children and has treated them separately from adults.
Yet in an era when people are tired of crime and simply seek vengeance, old wisdom is easily set aside. While children who kill can be tried as adults, that option shouldn't be invoked in one so young -- and it would shame Pennsylvania if it were done so here. If tried and convicted of first-degree murder in adult court and sentenced to life in prison without parole, it is believed he would be the youngest person in the United States serving such a sentence.
This tragedy will only be compounded if this child is treated like the adult he wasn't at age 11. However we might like to deny it, a child accused of killing is still a child.