New Evidence Suggests Teenager's Conviction in Triple Homicide Arson Case Is Based on Junk Science
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The Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office has yet to reply to those claims, but in previous court proceedings, it has intensely opposed any relief for Brown, arguing that a jury has already found Brown guilty and appeals courts have upheld the verdict. Specifically, they argue Brown and his previous lawyers already presented expert testimony at trial. By law, they argue Brown has no right to re-litigate expert testimony.
Regarding the intensely litigated issue of payments to witnesses, the Innocence Institute provided all legal stakeholders in this case with:
• A copy of taped conversations with the star witness ( 1, 2) and his ex-girlfriend ( 1, 2), in which both claimed that reward money had been promised by ATF agents and subsequently delivered by ATF agents.
• Copies of two cashier’s checks written out by ATF for $5,000 and $10,000 to undisclosed recipients who provided information to prosecutors in Greg Brown’s case.
• A f orm letter from an undisclosed ATF agent to residents of Bricelyn Street dated Feb. 14, 1996, in which it’s written that ATF “is offering a $15,000 reward for information that could lead to the conclusion of this case.”
Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. refused interview requests and offered only a brief written response to several inquiries. First Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert S. Cessar dismissed allegations that ATF agents offered rewards in exchange for testimony against Brown prior to the trial.
“Long after the trial was over, ATF decided to pay reward money to two witnesses,” Cessar wrote in a letter to the Innocence Institute. “The agent who paid the reward money to those two witnesses on behalf of ATF stated that the witnesses were of course glad to receive the rewards, but they were also surprised because they had never asked for a reward and had never been told that they would receive a reward.”
That statement is disputed by at least three witnesses contacted by the Innocence Institute to speak about their involvement in the Bricelyn Street investigation. All of them said ATF agents told them they could earn thousands of dollars for testimony implicating Brown or his mother in the case.
Brown hopes the judge will go beyond technicalities to determine whether the fire was an arson, whether the jury heard everything about deals to witnesses, and ultimately whether a 17-year-old was the victim of blind injustice that demanded someone pay for the loss of three fire fighters’ lives.
“I can honestly say I did not do this crime,” said Brown, who is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole at the State Correctional Institution in Dallas, Pa. (SCI Dallas). “To make this case worse, I don’t even believe there was a crime.”
“I want to clear my name,” he said. “I don’t want these [firefighter’s] kids … thinking I killed their parents.”
His mother, Darlene Buckner, who despite her acquittal has been castigated by the victim’s families for years, sadly laments: “I will never be free until my son is free.”
Dr. Gerald Hurst, 73, an Austin, Texas-based expert who has studied the Brown case, has been involved in several highly publicized cases where arson-related convictions were overturned after he questioned the veracity of what he calls antiquated arson science.
He arrived at his very specific conclusions after spending months investigating the scientific basis of the Bricelyn Street tragedy, without pay, at the behest of the Innocence Institute – a journalistic organization unaffiliated with any of this case’s stakeholders. Students of the Innocence Institute investigate and write about claims of wrongful convictions. They work to find the truth in all cases.