U.S. Attorney Hickton Statement on Indictment of Gregory Brown, Jr. for 1995 Fire that Killed Three Pittsburgh Firefighters
PITTSBURGH – United States Attorney David J. Hickton released the following statement today:
“The Bricelyn Street fire and deaths of three brave Pittsburgh Firefighters is a scar from which this community has never recovered. We still mourn and honor the memory of Thomas Brooks, Patricia Conroy and Marc Kolenda tragically killed while fighting the fire that resulted after being intentionally set. The investigation of the fire by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, City of Pittsburgh Arson Squad and the Allegheny County Fire Marshal established that the fire was intentionally set making their deaths all the more devastating.
“Federal and local investigators and prosecutors have worked cooperatively since the inception of the investigation after the fire occurred in 1995. Even though jurisdiction existed in both state and federal court, it was agreed between the Allegheny County District Attorney’s office and the United States Attorney’s Office that the case would originally be brought in state court and a joint prosecution team from both offices would prosecute the case.
“After a trial before then Common Pleas Court Judge David Cercone, Gregory Brown, Jr. was convicted of the fatal arson and his mother, Darlene Buckner, was found guilty of insurance fraud. Brown was sentenced to life in prison and Buckner was sentenced to three years’ probation
“Years later, Brown challenged his conviction and Common Pleas Court Judge Joseph Williams ordered a new trial at which he would preside. The District Attorney's Office challenged Judge Williams’ decision alleging partiality and asked him to recuse himself. He declined the request to recuse himself and that decision was affirmed by the Pennsylvania Superior Court.
“Substantial questions have been raised which undermine confidence in a retrial in state court.
“After a thorough review of the evidence and in consultation with the Allegheny County District Attorney, and after application of the Principles of Federal Prosecution, we have decided that the interests of justice are best served by a trial of this matter in federal court. Accordingly, a sealed indictment was presented to and returned by a federal grand jury on November 1, and we have unsealed it today.
“There is federal jurisdiction, there is a substantial federal interest in protection against arson, there is a substantial community interest in securing justice for firefighters killed by arson and there is no federal statute of limitations given the arson caused the death of the victims.
“Our paramount interest throughout has been the cause of justice; for the victims and their families, for the defendants and for the community. We believe justice can best be ensured through this course.”