Judge may step down in retrial of arson that killed 3 firefighters

Gregory Brown Jr. was convicted of three counts of second degree murder for setting the Bricelyn Street fire that killed three Pittsburgh firefighters in 1995


By Paula Reed Ward
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

PITTSBURGH — An Allegheny county judge will hold a hearing Wednesday to decide whether he should step down from the retrial of a man charged in a 1995 arson fire that killed three Pittsburgh firefighters.

The prosecutor previously asked Common Pleas Judge Joseph K. Williams III to remove himself from Gregory Brown Jr.'s retrial because she thinks he had a bias against the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms and Explosives from a case when he was a private attorney.

Mr. Brown's attorney said in a motion today that the judge has no reason to step down.

Mr. Brown was awarded a new trial in 2014 after it was learned that the ATF and prosecution failed to turn over evidence to the defense. Mr. Brown was convicted of three counts of second-degree murder for the Feb. 14, 1995, Bricelyn Street fire in Homewood.

"The commonwealth has accused this court of nothing more than doing its job -- the commonwealth simply takes issue with the outcome," wrote defense attorney Dave Fawcett.

The Allegheny County District Attorney's office filed a motion last month claiming that when Judge Williams was still a practicing attorney, he represented a man whose carpet store burned in a fire in 2004. When the ATF was interviewing the client, one of the agents asked Judge Williams, "Did you start the fire at your client's store?"

Judge Williams was so offended by the question, he wrote a letter back to the agents four days later, saying, "I've never had an officer exhibit such ignorance or lack of professionalism regarding the dynamics of an attorney-client relationship."

First assistant district attorney Rebecca Spangler wrote in her motion that the "ire" in the letter showed that Judge Williams "took this incident personally and harbored a deep resentment toward those investigators."

In his response, Mr. Fawcett said that the prosecution's motion should be "summarily dismissed" because the prosecutor failed to demonstrate "bias, prejudice or unfairness."

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(c)2015 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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