Trial delayed for McKeesport man charged for his actions at house fire
Gordon Brown has roughly three months to acquire an attorney and build a defense against charges stemming from a January fire at his McKeesport home that resulted in an injury to police Lt. Joe Lopretto.
Brown, who represented himself in district court and during formal arraignment last summer, appeared before Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Anthony M. Mariani on Wednesday on charges of aggravated assault, recklessly endangering another person, obstructing the administration of law or government, and disorderly conduct.
Brown's trial was postponed until at least February because, Mariani said, the court is required to affirm that the defendant understands the seriousness of the charges and his right to legal counsel.
Mariani explained that a conviction could carry a maximum jail sentence of 10-20 years in prison.
“You're not supposed to walk in and risk your freedom without preparation,” the judge said.
“There are a lot of people in the state system —— thousands — who thought they were going home at the end of their case and they're in state prison. You have a big stake in this case, and you should question yourself and your ability to represent yourself.”
Brown said he had not understood the seriousness of the charges against him.
“I honestly didn't think that, once this case was heard, any person with any common sense could find me guilty,” Brown said. “I didn't touch anybody.”
Brown asserted several times Wednesday that his lack of intent to cause Lopretto harm should dispel the aggravated assault charge.
The state statute defines aggravated assault as causing serious bodily injury, whether “intentionally, knowingly or recklessly.”
“If your conduct caused that fall, you arguably could be held responsible,” Mariani told Brown.
Upon his dismissal from the courtroom, Brown said he feels remorseful for any role he played in Lopretto's injuries, but he believes the charges are too severe.
“I'm not guilty of these charges,” Brown said.
During a preliminary hearing before Magisterial District Judge Eugene Riazzi on June 17, Lopretto testified that Brown ran toward a rear window at his burning home at 431 Long Run Road on Jan. 30 when he heard his mother shout that a cat was trapped inside. Lopretto called for him to stop and followed him.
“There was a slime on the deck, and my feet went out from under me,” Lopretto said in district court. “My head hit and I don't remember too much after that.”
Lopretto stammered through that testimony, the result of a severe concussion that affects his speech and vision.
“(Brown) took my livelihood,” Lopretto said on Wednesday, after Mariani's decision to postpone. “I used to wake up every day and look forward to putting my uniform on. I took pride in what I did.
“Now, I can't work. I can't drive. I can't see right. I'm in pain every day, and I've had months of headaches.”
Brown's mother Katie Kearney, who owns the home, spoke out in court and when the session ended.
“I seen everything that happened,” she said. “That cop wasn't even supposed to be there. He slipped on the deck. It was rainy and icy.”
Lopretto agrees that he never made physical contact with Brown, but said it was his duty to try to stop him.
Brown had been ordered told by Lopretto and Assistant Chief Tom Greene to keep his distance from the home and to stand with neighbors.
Lopretto was prepared to testify in Common Pleas Court on Wednesday with Greene, Detective Joe Osinski and patrolman Dan Krejdovsky.
Brown is living in the rear apartment of his damaged home and is remodeling it for his family, Kearney said.
Brown said he plans to take his case seriously and seek legal representation.
Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161 ext. 1956, or firstname.lastname@example.org.