PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – February will mark the 16th anniversary of a tragedy that has long sat heavy on the hearts of Pittsburgh.
The fatal Bricelyn Street fire claimed the lives of three Pittsburgh firefighters.
Greg Brown was convicted of arson and is serving a life sentence without parole.
However, a group of student journalists from Point Park University claim they’ve uncovered new evidence that may show that Brown was wrongfully convicted.
Now, Brown’s attorneys are asking for the case to be reopened.
It was a tragedy that shook the city to its core and sent the entire community into deep mourning.
The house fire on Bricelyn Street in Homewood claimed the lives of Fire Captain Thomas Brooks and firefighters Patty Conroy and Mark Kolenda.
“This community needs to be thankful for those people,” former Pittsburgh Mayor Tom Murphy said.
After an investigation, the mother and son who lived in the house, Darlene Buckner and Brown, were arrested and charged with homicide, arson and conspiracy to commit insurance fraud.
At trial, prosecutors alleged the pair set the fire in order to collect renter’s insurance. Relatives proclaimed their innocence.
“Our family feels very bad about the death of these firefighters, but to come and victimize these people like this. It’s not right. It’s not fair. They did nothing and I’ll take that to my grave,” Lillian Moore said.
While Buckner was acquitted of everything but fraud, the jury found her son guilty of homicide and arson. He was 17-years-old at the time and is now 32.
He’s serving a life-term without the possibility of parole. But now his conviction is being challenged.
“We’ve looked at this case for seven years and a lot of things have emerged from it that indicate that justice may not have been done,” Bill Moushey with the Innocence Institute said.
The Innocence Institute is a group of journalism students at Point Park University. Under the oversight of their professor, former Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Investigative Reporter Bill Moushey, they claim they’ve uncovered new evidence that merits the reopening of the case against Brown.
The students have challenged the government’s case that the fire was intentionally set. Instead, they contacted noted arson investigator Gerald Hurst who they said has uncovered new physical evidence and documents that show it was accidental.
“He found several police reports that indicate the fire was started by a natural gas leak,” Moushey said.
However, the most striking bit of evidence the Innocence Institute found that witnesses, who testified against Brown, were paid $15,000 dollars by government prosecutors for their testimony. That fact was never given to the defense.
Those witnesses included a fellow inmate at Youth Boot Camp, who testified that Brown had bragged about setting the fire. The students spoke with an ex-girlfriend of that inmate who said he lied on the stand.
“He told her in confidence that he had made up that information. That Greg Brown never told him that information. That he had never even overhead anything about Greg Brown,” Matt Stroud said.
All of this, they said, points to the need for a new trial, and using this evidence as a basis, attorneys for Brown have filed a notice of appeal asking a judge to reopen the case.
The District Attorney’s Office had no comment only saying that they will oppose the reopening of this case in court. However, the challenging of this conviction will no doubt be unsettling news to the families of the firefighters who thought this matter was closed 13 years ago.