A Pittsburgh man serving three life terms for setting a fire that killed three Pittsburgh firefighters is set to get a new trial.
Allegheny County Judge Joseph Williams on Wednesday ruled 36-year-old Gregory Brown Jr. deserved the new trial because prosecutors didn't reveal that the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms paid one witness a $5,000 reward.
That witness testified he wasn't promised any money for his testimony, which Williams said could have been used to impeach his credibility had Brown's defense known about the reward.
The Allegheny County District Attorney quickly appealed the decision.
The ruling is also not sitting well with U.S. Attorney David Hickton. Through a press release, Hickton called the judge’s opinion “unjust.”
“We fully support the appeal by the Allegheny County District Attorney,” Hickton said.
The Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives responded with a statement that reads in part:
“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.”
Brown was 17 when he allegedly set the Feb. 14, 1995 fire for the insurance money. Brown's mother was convicted of insurance fraud and sentenced to probation.
Firefighters Thomas Brooks, Patricia Conroy and Marc Kolenda died in the blaze.
Judge Williams’ ruling included criticism of Assistant United States Attorney Shaun Sweeney. That also prompted a response for Hickton:
"The critical statements in the opinion pertaining to Assistant United States Attorney Shaun Sweeney are without factual or legal merit. During the state court trial in Allegheny County AUSA Shaun Sweeney was cross-deputized and served as one of two prosecutors who tried and convicted Gregory Brown of murder. AUSA Shaun Sweeney is an outstanding public servant; one of the finest arson prosecutors in the nation; and currently serves as the Chief of the Civil Rights Section of the U.S. Attorney's Office. We will vigorously defend AUSA Sweeney's conduct in this case and he continues to have my full confidence."
The request for a retrial was prompted in part by work done by students in a Point Park University class.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.