PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — It was a tragedy that shook the City of Pittsburgh 19 years ago, three Pittsburgh firefighters killed at a house fire in Homewood.
The tragedy of Bricelyn Street — and the death of fire Capt. Thomas Brooks and firefighters Patty Conroy and Mark Kolenda — still leaves a hole in the hearts of those who knew them.
“You can see by my own emotions, retracing that night. When I reported to the incident and saw the bodies of those three firefighters lying on that floor,” Fire Union President Joe King said.
To a large extent, that pain will be relived now that Judge Joe Williams has ordered a retrial for Greg Brown, the man serving life without parole for the arson murders.
But Brown’s attorneys say he was wrongly convicted.
“What happened on Bricelyn Street many years ago was a great tragedy, there’s no reason though that had to be followed by another tragedy,” Dave Fawcett, Brown’s attorney, said.
Brown’s attorneys successfully argued that agents from the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms offered witnesses money to testify, but never disclosed this to the jury.
Those witnesses included Ibrahim Abdula, who testified at trial that he overheard Brown admitting to the arson.
“Yes, these folks were paid money, and they expected to be paid money when they testified, and under our Constitution that kind of thing has to be disclosed and it was not disclosed,” said Fawcett.
Evidence that the witnesses had been paid was unearthed by college students at the now-defunct Innocent Project at Point Park University under their professor, Bill Moushey.
I had tears in my eyes when that thing came down because I was so proud of my students,” said Moushey.
Despite the pain on going through a new trial, firefighters say they accept the ruling.
“We believe in the justice system,” said King. “We as firefighters always have, and if that’s what the judge or the courts decide. That’s what we believe.”
Late Wednesday, the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office confirmed it will refile charges against Brown, but this time, his defense attorney says he will be exonerated.
The ATF released this statement following the judge’s ruling:
“The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) disagrees with the court’s conclusions and reasoning in its decision to overturn the conviction of Greg Brown Jr. ATF stands by our personnel, our arson investigative techniques, and the use of rewards in criminal investigations. All ATF personnel involved in this investigation adhered to proper investigative protocols and procedures.
“Law enforcement frequently makes use of publicly announced rewards as an investigative tool to encourage citizens of our communities to come forward with information that will generate investigative leads and bring those who commit serious offenses to justice.
“ATF defends our role in the original jury trial that resulted in the conviction of Greg Brown Jr. for the murders of the three City of Pittsburgh firefighters in February 1995 as a result of his criminal act of arson. We respect the judicial process and we will support the appeal by the Allegheny County District Attorney’s office.”
U.S. Attorney David J. Hickton also issued a statement.
It reads in part: “The decision by Judge Williams reversing the conviction of Gregory Brown in the deaths of three Pittsburgh firefighters in the 1995 Bricelyn Street fire is unjust. We fully support the appeal by the Allegheny County District Attorney and endorse the statement by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.”