The Pa Innocence Project at Temple Law has won a new trial for
Greg Brown, convicted of arson and second degree murder eighteen
years ago for a fire that killed three Pittsburgh firefighters.
In a sharp rebuke to the federal government's actions in
investigating the worst tragedy in Pittsburgh Fire Department
history, Judge Joseph Williams today ordered that Brown's
conviction be vacated and a new trial held.
Eighteen years ago, Brown was convicted of setting the fire that
took the lives of three Pittsburgh fire fighters on February 14,
1995. In ordering a new trial for Brown, who was 17 when sentenced
to life without parole, Judge Williams ruled that the government
intentionally withheld information critical to the jury's verdict:
that the only two witnesses to inculpate Brown did so while
expecting to receive thousands of dollars in cash for their
testimony. Judge Williams called this an "egregious lapse in
judgment" made Brown's trial "so unfair [that] the Court does not
have confidence in the guilt determination."
A dogged investigation begun by veteran journalist Bill Moushey
of Point Park University years after Brown's conviction uncovered
the $15,000 in payments to the witnesses. The Pennsylvania
Innocence Project, through local pro bono counsel Dave Fawcett and
Jason Hazlewood of Reed Smith, tracked down evidence that the key
witnesses against Brown, including a troubled 15 year old,
testified expecting thousands of dollars in reward money from
federal investigators - and that neither the jury, the judge or
Greg Brown's trial counsel were told of the arrangement.
Although not part of the hearing, the Pennsylvania Innocence
Project also consulted international fire experts who believe the
fire was likely not an arson at all, but a horrible tragedy with no
"The conduct of the federal government that led to Greg Brown's
conviction was atrocious," said Mr. Fawcett. "This fire was a
tragic accident, and the firefighters died heroically trying to
save the lives of everyone inside that house. But there was no
arson here. Mr. Brown had nothing to do with this tragedy; now he
will have a fair chance of proving that in court."
Pennsylvania Innocence Project Legal Director Marissa Bluestine
noted that this is the first Pittsburgh case brought through to a
hearing by the small independently-funded non-profit organization.
It is the third grant of a new trial for clients of the Project in