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Greg Brown: Alford plea frees suspect in 1995 blaze that killed 3 firefighters

Alford plea frees suspect in 1995 blaze that killed 3 firefighters
Alford plea frees suspect in 1995 blaze that killed 3 firefighters 03:36

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- A man who spent nearly 20 years in prison for arson in the deaths of three Pittsburgh firefighters 27 years ago is free after entering a plea in which he maintains he did not set the fire.

KDKA-TV was the only television station in the courtroom Wednesday, and the only one to speak with defendant Greg Brown as he was leaving the courthouse.

"The whole case was a lie," Brown said as he walked out of federal court, pleading guilty to the arson but maintaining his innocence.

Did he set the fire that killed three Pittsburgh firefighters 27 years ago in Homewood? Or did he spend nearly 20 years in prison for a crime he did not commit?

Wednesday, Brown's defense attorneys and the government agreed to disagree, allowing Brown to plead guilty but admit no wrong-doing.

"I'm real upset about this plea right now," he said. "It's guilty but I maintain my innocence."

Added his attorney Dave Fawcett: "Greg is 100 percent innocent. This wasn't an arson. He wasn't nowhere near the house when the fire broke out."

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Greg Brown is free after entering a plea in which he maintains he did not set the fire. (Photo Credit: KDKA)

In a rare plea agreement -- called an Alford Plea -- Brown pleaded guilty to malicious destruction of property resulting in the deaths of Pittsburgh firefighters Thomas Brooks, Patty Conroy and Marc Kolenda in the 1995 fire. But at the same time, Brown maintains his innocence.

He was freed from prison in 2014 with the promise of new trial after his attorneys maintained he had been falsely convicted, but Wednesday, those attorneys said a potential new conviction carries a term of life in prison. And after spending nearly 20 years in prison, Brown was unwilling to risk a new trial.

"That's why I took the plea get it over with," he said. "Me and my family try to bring some clarity to this."

Family members of the firefighters declined to comment after leaving the courtroom, but for their part, the government prosecutors said the case against Brown remains strong, citing the testimony of arson experts, physical evidence of gas cans on-site allegedly used to start the fire and testimony of witnesses saying Brown admitted to the arson.

However, Brown's attorneys said the evidence for arson is weak and said those witnesses were given $10,000 and $5,000 each in exchange for their testimony, and claimed prosecutorial misconduct.

"People put out a $15,000 reward and all of a sudden these people pop up and say I admitted to them," Brown said. "I never admitted to committing no fire."

"Those things shouldn't happen in America," Fawcett said. "There needs to be some accountability so these kinds of wrongful convictions (don't) happen again."

Judge David Cercone approved the plea, calling it just and reasonable and saying it satisfied justice for all involved.

"I think that this case does deserve closure and this does bring closure not only to the defendant but to family members of the deceased firefighters and we can all move on," Cercone said.

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