Death penalty sought against father of slain New Kensington child

Jan. 7—Westmoreland County prosecutors have filed court documents that indicate they will seek the death penalty against the father of a young boy who was killed last spring in New Kensington.

Jean J. Charles, 40, of Brackenridge was charged in September, about four months after the body of his 9-year-old son, Azuree Charles, was found in early May near his home at East Ken Manor. In September, prosecutors charged Jean Charles with first-degree murder, strangulation, abuse of a corpse and other offenses.

Police said Charles strangled the boy, then dragged his body over an embankment and tried to hide it under lawn furniture.

Prosecutors, in the court filing seeking the death penalty, listed two aggravating circumstances to support the effort to seek capital punishment: The child was younger than 12, and Jean Charles was subject to a court order that restricted him from having abusive behavior toward the boy.

Police contended Charles was permitted by his former wife, Luella Elien, who is the boy's mother, to watch Azuree and his three younger sisters in defiance of a court order that prevented him from having contact with the boy. According to court records, Jean Charles previously pleaded guilty to assaulting the boy in 2019 and was accused of doing so again in November 2021.

Charles' is the first case in which District Attorney Nicole Ziccarelli, who took office in 2022, has sought the death penalty.

"After a thorough examination of the facts and evidence, the filing of the commonwealth's notice to seek the death penalty is proper in this case given the age of the victim and the circumstances surrounding his death. In our society, the trust the

child holds in a parent is inviolate, and this office intends to prosecute violations of that trust," Ziccarelli said in a statement released Friday.

Assistant Public Defender Mike Garofalo could not be reached for comment.

Charles is next scheduled to appear in court March 28 for a pretrial conference before Westmoreland County Common Pleas Judge Meagan Bilik-DeFazio.

Elien, 29, of New Kensington is awaiting trial on charges of aggravated assault, child endangerment and hindering prosecution. Police said she failed to prevent her former husband from abusing the child and permitted Charles to stay at her home despite knowing there was an active warrant for his arrest.

Elien's case is pending, and she served two months in jail following her arrest. She was freed Nov. 19 after she posted a $50,000 bond, according to court records.

Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich by email at or via Twitter .