ShareThis Page

Trial delayed for McKeesport man charged for his actions at house fire

| Friday, Nov. 29, 2013, 12:09 p.m.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
Shortly after a preliminary hearing in June, Gordon Brown revisited his McKeesport residence to make repairs months after a structure fire during which police Lt. Joe Lopretto was injured in a fall.

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 jvertullo@tribweb.com.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.