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Brown to plead to lesser charges

by Vicki Smith

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

MORGANTOWN -- Ricky Lee Brown, the stepfather of three children who died in a 1997 house fire in Weston, is expected to avoid a murder trial by pleading guilty to lesser charges next week.

Brown, whose wife, Barbara, pleaded guilty earlier this month to three counts of involuntary manslaughter, is set to appear in Grant County Circuit Court on July 3, court officials confirmed Thursday.

Judge Andrew Frye's secretary said Brown is apparently entering a plea at 1 p.m. She did not have more details, and Brown's attorney in Wheeling, Jay T. McCamic, did not immediately return telephone calls.

Brown, who was acquitted in January on federal charges stemming from the fire, was to be tried in state court on charges of murder, arson and conspiracy.

He has been in jail since Dec. 10, 1997, the day he, his wife and their housemate, Janette Ables, were charged with burning the house for insurance money.

Barbara Brown's three children, Kimberly, Seronica and Brandon Castner, died in the Nov. 21, 1997, blaze along with Ables' two children, Jimmy and Rayshell.

At the federal trial, Ables cut a deal with prosecutors and testified against the Browns after pleading guilty to state charges of felony child neglect resulting in death. She is serving a three- to 15-year sentence.

Barbara Brown, who also was acquitted in the federal trial, was released June 10 after pleading guilty to the manslaughter charges. Her attorney has said only that she is now living somewhere in West Virginia.

By agreeing to the plea, Barbara Brown admitted "she was in reckless disregard of the safety of her children and that she unintentionally caused their death," attorney John Pizzuti said.

Investigators believe the couple doused their house with gasoline and then set it ablaze, leaving the children behind to die so they could collect some $85,000 in insurance.

Defense attorneys have long argued the deaths were accidental, claiming the children were lost in the confusion of a fast-burning fire caused by a child playing with matches.

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