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Senior attorneys appointed to defend Weston fire suspects

by Troy Graham


Some of the state's most senior attorneys were appointed by a federal judge Thursday to represent the three parents charged with setting a Weston house fire that killed their five children.

Federal Judge Irene Keeley appointed J. McCamic and John Pizzuti, both of Wheeling, to defend Ricky and Barbara Brown, respectively. Clarksburg attorney Rocco Mazzei will represent Janette Ables in the trio's upcoming federal trial.

Ables and the Browns were charged last week in a 15-count federal indictment. Prosecutors allege they burned down their Weston home in November 1997 while their five children were inside.

Prosecutors allege they set the fire to collect insurance money on the house and the children. Prosecutors may seek the death penalty in the case.

Court-appointed attorneys are normally chosen on a rotating basis from the Criminal Justice Act panel list, said Wally Edgell, the clerk of court in Elkins.

"This time Judge Keeley appointed the most experienced attorneys on the list because it's a capital case," Edgell said.

Mazzei and McCamic both teach classes on federal criminal law for court-appointed lawyers, Mazzei said.

"Federal criminal law is very complicated and especially if it goes to the death penalty," he said.

If prosecutors seek the death penalty, the court may appoint another attorney who specializes in capital punishment law, Mazzei said.

Mazzei has worked on other high-profile federal cases. The court appointed him to represent former Clarksburg Fire Lt. James "Rich" Rogers, who was one of the militia members charged in 1996 with plotting to bomb the FBI fingerprinting lab in Clarksburg.

Mazzei said he is concerned about getting a fair trial in the highly publicized Weston fire case.

"Where do you find a jury that hasn't heard about it?" he asked.

The three defendants are also likely to face state charges in Lewis County for arson and murder. A grand jury may indict them in November.

The three had attorneys appointed to represent them against their state charges shortly after their arrests. Steve Nanners and Kourtney Ryan, both of Buckhannon, were appointed to represent Ricky and Barbara Brown, respectively. David Orndorff, also of Buckhannon, was appointed to handle Janette Ables' case.