Group Claims New Evidence In Bricelyn Street Fire

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.

  • KottaMan

    As both a former police official and for the past 20 years as an insurance loss control specialist I would not put too much faith in any police report claiming to have narrowed the cause down. Fire scene “cause and origin” investigations are not as simple as most folks think. No offense to the officers involved at the time.

  • marty griffin

    Folks I am on the case with my team …..

  • Nick M 59

    If it is true it is unfortunate but there are cases where Arson investigators are wrong basing there investigations on junk science.
    In Texas Todd Willingham is believed to have been wrongly executed and in fact the Texas courts have been roundly denounced for the way the case has been handled.
    20/20 just recently did a story on the many bad arson cases across the Country and while many investigators strive to use the best methods and science
    there are still those using methods which are based on nothing but wives tales
    If this individual did it he deserves his sentence if he did not he deserves his day in court. As would any other individual deserves.

  • KB

    Allegheny County has some of the best arson investigators in the country! The part of the payoff is all he said she said, those people could have been paid to say the others were paid. Speculate all you like, let nature take its course and find out what happens when this is over.

  • Sharon Happe

    Let’s just find the facts and if this young man has been wrongfully convicted then let justice be done (quickly).

  • Darryl

    Wow, 13 years later, couldnt come forward any sooner?

  • Nick M 59

    Before your so quick to dismiss this as another blah blah i was wrongly convicted
    cry baby you should read this and other cases Dr. Hurst has examined and gotten people off for bad science

  • Kelly conroy

    as a victims niece I’d like to say a few words to all you fellow readers:

    do you have any intellect on this case? do you have any idea how many times this man had tried to “claim his innocence” & lost?

    how sad it is to see the people of this city have pity for one party in this situation. do you have any idea how much my family has suffered since the death of my aunt because of Gregory brown? or the families of mr. Brooks or mr. kolenda? this is not only injustice for mr. Brown but for all the victims families as well to have to relive what happened as they turn on the news THE DAY BEFORE CHRISTMAS.

    I’m ashamed of kdka to publish such an unnecessary story on Christmas eve as family gather together only to have to listen to something they have to live with everyday.. this was not a breaking news story & could have certainly waited till December 26th.


    • mommysluv

      Mrs. Conroy I understand that you are impartial to the ruling because you lost your aunt, but the truth of the matter is that as a firefighter they risk their lives on a daily bases. Your aunt lost her life doing her job. Now if the fire was indeed arson then it is unfortunate. But what if it wasnt? How would you feel if you spent the last 13 years of your life in prison for something you didnt do? Its not just yours and the otherfighters families who has lost someone. Mr. Brown’s family has had a lost as well. Kepping Mr. Brown in jail will not bring your loved one home, but what good is prison going to do to someone who doesnt deserve to be there? As far as the story airing Dec 24th means nothing. I feel as though you would have a issue with the story airing ANYDAY! Just as though you live with the fact that your aunt is no longer with you. Im sure his family deals with the fact that he is no longer with them as well.

  • Tonia

    I am truly sorry for your loss but, keeping an innnocent person in jail will not bring her back. The government makes mistakes every day, federal, state and local. Mistakes are not new to anyone. Thiis to me, has been a terrible mistake from the start. The police are always in a hurry to make someone accountable no matter who they are. We are talking about a young man 17 years of age with nothing to gain from setting a fire in his home. If want to blame anyone blame the investigators who originallly claimed this fire as an arson, that’s where the blame lyes, not on Mr. Brown or his family he just happened to be the scape goat in this case. I am sure there are many young men serving time for something they did not do, not just Mr. Brown. The Innocence Program was created for that very reason. I am happy when I hear someone was released because of something this program found out that was not true. What have you done in the last 13 years? I am sure you have had a decent 13 years of life, but Mr. Brown lost his life at 17. Can you image yourself in that jail for something you didn’t do, I sure there would be a lot of tears and even if we are talking about a man, he can cry too.

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