A Pennsylvania prosecutor said his hands are tied, and he has no choice but to charge an 11-year-old boy as an adult in the killing of his father's pregnant girlfriend.
Lawrence County District Attorney John Bongivengo said Monday that Pennsylvania law doesn't permit him to file a criminal homicide charge against Jordan Brown in juvenile court.
Brown is charged as an adult with using his own 20-gauge shotgun to kill 26-year-old Kenzie Marie Houk Friday morning.
The gun was a Christmas gift from the boy's father, who was training him to be a hunter, the New York Daily News reported Sunday.
Because he's charged as an adult, Brown is in the county jail — albeit separated from adult inmates. His attorney, Dennis Elisco, says being locked up with adults is inappropriate for a child and will file motions Monday to move the case to juvenile court and to let the boy's father post bail so he can get out of jail.
"I don't think anybody wants him there," Elisco said, referring to the county jail.
Houk was eight months pregnant with Brown's father's child, and also had two daughters, 7 and 4, who lived in the rural home with the Browns where authorities said she was slain as she lay in bed about 8 a.m. Friday.
After the shooting, the boy hopped onto a school bus with Houk's oldest daughter, police said. He was picked up from school several hours later after some tree trimmers called 911 when Houk's youngest daughter told them she thought her mother was dead.
Elisco said a judge likely won't hear his motions right away. Until then, he hopes to get the fifth-grader's school to send him assignments in jail.
"I want him to be occupied and busy and back, essentially, in school," Elisco said. "I wouldn't say he's in good spirits. He's confused. He looks and acts like a typical 11-year-old."
Elisco said jail officials can't even find clothes to fit the 4-foot-8 boy.
"They put a shirt on him, he's swimming in it, and his pants are cuffed up about 10 times," Elisco said.
Lawrence County Warden Charles Adamo told the Associated Press on Sunday that he wanted to speak to a judge about moving the boy from an adult lockup to a juvenile detention center.
"I'm just going to speak to the judge [on Monday] because I don't have the facilities to accommodate somebody who's 11 years old," Adamo said.
Adamo said his 300-inmate jail cannot offer proper long-term care for Brown, of Wampum.
The boy has been in the jail some 45 miles northwest of Pittsburgh since early Saturday, Adamo said. He's being held in one of four 10-by-8-foot cells in the jail's booking area, where officials check on him every 15 minutes.
The boy gets the same food as the other inmates, but cannot receive visitors — except for his attorney — because doing so would require him to mingle with adult inmates, Adamo said. Even something as simple as letting the boy shower would require locking down an entire cellblock, most of which hold up to 63 inmates, Adamo said.
Brown's cell has a sink, toilet and a bunk and the inside can be seen from a desk where a booking clerk sits, Adamo said.
Brown is charged as an adult because Pennsylvania law allows prosecutors to charge children as young as 10 with criminal homicide.
For now, the boy faces a preliminary hearing on Thursday to determine if he'll stand trial. If a judge agrees the case might belong in juvenile court, a dual-purpose hearing will determine if there's evidence to support the charges, but Elisco will also have to prove the boy can be rehabilitated through a juvenile system that only has jurisdiction until the boy turns 21.
Elisco said the boy has not confessed to the shooting, and he doesn't believe the physical evidence will support the police contention that the boy killed Houk, execution-style, with one shot to the back of her head.
Police and Bongivengo haven't discussed a motive, and Elisco used an expletive to dismiss claims by Houk's family that the boy might have been jealous of Houk.
"I think it's all bull ... there's no animosity," Elisco said.
But two national experts on blended families told the AP the case has all the earmarks of one fueled by the natural tensions that could have occurred as Brown and his father attempted to blend with Houk and her daughters. Brown's father and Houk had been together since May and got engaged in December, her family said.
"It looks awful from the outside and sort of unspeakable, but these are the kinds of feelings that are pretty normal in a new stepfamily. You just hope there's not a loaded gun around," said Patricia Papernow, a psychologist from Hudson, Mass., who heard about the case on the national news.
"I'll bet the boy had some big feelings he didn't know what to do with," said Papernow, author of "Becoming a Stepfamily: Stages of Development in Remarried Families.
Papernow and Jeannette Lofas, a former TV journalist who formed the Stepfamily Foundation as she struggled to deal with her own stepchildren in the 1970s, said most people don't realize how much work it takes to blend two families.
"Two out of three stepfamilies fail," Lofas said. "Would you take your child on a plane to San Francisco with a one-third chance of making it there? That's what millions of people are doing every day when they try to form these families."
"Often kids get quite close or may get close to their parent in that time. When the parent recouples, it's a wonderful thing for the adult, they're gaga in love, but the kids feel kind of left behind," Papernow said.
"Many children feel that," Lofas agreed. "But few act it out to the extent of shooting the stepmother to be. It's just a caricature of what goes on in these situations."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.