Court rules Pa. man can be re-tried for allegedly setting blaze that killed 3 firefighters

The man's previous convictions for the deaths of three Pittsburgh firefighters were overturned 20 years into his prison sentences


Matt Miller
pennlive.com

PITTSBURGH, Pa. — A Pennsylvania man who was serving three consecutive life prison terms for the deaths of three firefighters in a 1995 blaze that investigators said he deliberately ignited can be retried after his initial convictions were overturned, a federal appeals court has ruled.

In making that call, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit rejected Gregory Brown’s argument that trying him again on murder and arson charges would violate the double jeopardy prohibition of the U.S. Constitution.

As Judge David J. Porter noted in the circuit court’s opinion, Brown was granted a new trial because prosecutors withheld evidence from the defense during his first trial in 1997 over the fatal fire in Pittsburgh.

Prosecutors repeatedly insisted that none of their witnesses received any payments for the information they provided that led to Brown’s initial conviction. However, after Brown spent more than 20 years in prison he discovered, with the aid of the Innocence Institute at Point Park University, that two prosecution witness had indeed received post-trial payments.

One witness received $10,000 from the federal Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives from the reward the ATF offered for information leading to an arrest. Another witness, a former prison cellmate who testified that Brown admitted to setting the fire, received $5,000 in reward money, Porter noted.

Brown, who was 17 when the fire erupted, also contended that a recent investigation by another fire expert determined the February 1995 blaze most likely resulted from a gas leak.

Prosecutors claimed Brown set the fire at the direction of his mother so she could collect on a renter’s insurance policy. The firefighters died when a stairway collapsed and trapped them in the burning home.

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