Retrial Decision Due Next Year in Triple-Fatal 1995 Pittsburgh Arson

December 23, 2019

A federal judge is slated to decide next year on a second trial in the case of a man accused of having set a Pittsburgh fire that killed three firefighters almost a quarter of a century ago.

Gregory Brown, 42, was originally convicted in Allegheny County and sentenced to life in the Valentine’s Day fire in 1995. But he was granted a new trial after his defense argued prosecutors and a federal agent failed to turn over evidence that witnesses were offered money in exchange for their testimonies.

The case was later turned over to federal prosecutors, who obtained an indictment on a charge of malicious destruction of property by fire resulting in death, which could result in a life term – but defense attorneys have raised double jeopardy and other concerns.

Prosecutors argued Wednesday that the state and federal systems represent different jurisdictions or “sovereigns,” The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.

U.S. District Judge David Cercone told both sides to submit more briefs by Feb. 14. But he said case law establishes that unless the first trial was in some way a sham, defendants can be tried in both systems, and he said Brown’s attorneys appear to be “trying to create” a new legal standard.

Prosecutors had accused Brown, then 17, of pouring a half-gallon of gasoline on some clothes in the basement of the four-story home and starting the blaze in hopes of collecting $20,000 in insurance money for a down payment on a new home. Pittsburgh fire Capt. Thomas Brooks, 42, and firefighters Marc Kolenda, 27, and Patricia Conroy, 43, suffocated when their air tanks ran out as they tried to escape from the rapidly burning home, authorities said.

Brown was originally convicted of three counts of second-degree murder, arson and related charge sentenced to three life terms. His mother was convicted of insurance fraud and was placed on probation.

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