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Pang Confesses To Seattle Arson, Paper Says But Lawyer Questions Validity Of Document, Says Article Imperils Right To Fair Trial

Sat., May 20, 1995

“I struck a match and set it to a bottom corner of plywood wall.

“I observed the wall burn until the flames burned up the wall approximately two feet in height. I then fled the building.”

That’s how Martin Pang, in a reported confession, says he set fire to the food-processing warehouse owned by his parents, according to a copyright article Friday in The Seattle Times. Four firefighters died in the Jan. 5 blaze.

The document, bearing Pang’s signature, was submitted Tuesday to the Brazilian Supreme Court, along with a statement signed by an FBI agent and 14 other affidavits, the article said.

The validity of the document was questioned by Pang’s lawyer, John Henry Browne, who said he was given a copy by the newspaper but had yet to receive any of the 64 pages of material filed with the Brazilian court. He said he expected to receive all the documents Tuesday.

Paulo Freitas Ribeiro, who runs a law firm hired by Browne as Brazilian counsel on the case in Rio de Janeiro, said the report came as a surprise.

“Martin told us he was innocent, and that’s how we’re approaching this case,” Ribeiro said.

Parts of the document conflict with previously announced findings in the case, including an arson investigator’s opinion that the fire was set with an accelerant, Browne said.

The Times report makes it impossible for Pang to receive a fair trial, he said.

Pang remains in jail in Rio de Janeiro pending extradition proceedings.

Brazilian officials may seek assurances that he will get a fair trial if he is returned to Seattle, Browne asserted.

“I believe that they would be concerned about the sensational nature of the attention The Seattle Times gave to this,” Browne said.

He estimated the extradition process would last three to six months.

Times Executive Editor Mike Fancher said the documents were available to the public in Brazil and were obtained by fax from a free-lance Brazilian journalist.

“We have an obligation to report on the progress of this case,” Fancher said. “It would be extremely irresponsible not to report it.”

An affidavit signed by FBI agent Gary Schoen lein and cited by The Times said he and another agent, David Burroughs, were present when Pang was arrested.

Pang signed a statement waiving his rights to remain silent and to have a lawyer present, Schoenlein wrote.

After first denying that he set the fire, Pang asked the agents if either knew any of the firefighters who died. They said they did not.

“Pang then said, ‘I did it.’ He further stated, ‘I threw a match in the lower warehouse,’ ” Schoenlein’s affidavit said.

Local FBI agents refused to comment on the report.

Marilyn Brenneman, the King County deputy prosecutor handling the case, told The Times the affidavits and accompanying documents should hold up in U.S. courts.

“I am convinced that the actions taken by law enforcement in this case are totally appropriate and all evidence we’ve gathered will be admissible, including all evidence presented to the Brazilian court,” she said.

In a later telephone interview, she would not confirm that Pang had confessed.

An affidavit submitted by Michael Shannon of the city’s arson investigation unit said an accelerant probably was splashed on the floor.

The statement attributed to Pang made no mention of an accelerant, and Browne questioned whether plywood could be ignited by holding a match to it.

The statement published by The Times said Pang flew from Burbank, Calif., to Seattle on Jan. 5, watched the building until the last person left for the night, started the fire and then immediately flew back to the Los Angeles area.

The arson fire destroyed Mary Pang’s Food Products Inc.

Fire Lts. Walter D. Kilgore, 45, and Gregory M. Shoemaker, 43, and firefighters Randall R. Terlicker, 35, and James T. Brown, 25, died after a floor collapsed, plunging them into an inferno.

The signed confession said Pang agreed to the statement without being threatened or promised any benefits, The Times said.

In it, he wrote, “I wanted to destroy the business to relieve my parents of the burden of running it.

“My mother worked at that business every day since it started in 1955. She has been in failing health and refused to stop working.”

Friends of Pang, including a Washington State Patrol trooper, said in signed affidavits that he had talked of planning to burn down the building. The aging building was insured for more than $1.1 million with Farmers Insurance Co., according to another affidavit.

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