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Accused Arsonist Back In Seattle, Charges Still Uncertain

Associated Press

Martin Pang returned to Seattle on Thursday night, more than a year after he fled to Brazil to try to avoid prosecution in an arson fire that killed four firefighters.

Pang flew into Seattle-Tacoma International Airport under heavy guard and was taken in a police motorcade to the King County jail.

The 40-year-old Pang is accused of setting a fire at his parents’ frozen food warehouse on Jan. 5, 1995. The blaze killed four Seattle firefighters.

The King County prosecutor wants to try Pang on the charges filed against him: arson and first-degree murder. But it’s unclear whether the extradition agreement with Brazil will allow that, Prosecutor Norm Maleng said.

“As of today, the opinion from the Brazilian Supreme Court does not clearly authorize the prosecution of Martin Pang for felony murder,” Maleng told a news conference on Thursday. “The opinion must be clarified before we proceed.”

The U.S. delegation negotiating the extradition left Brazil with the assurance that Pang would be returned with no restrictions, Maleng said.

The U.S. State Department plans to file a motion today asking the Brazilian Supreme Court to clarify its ruling on Pang’s extradition, Maleng added.

Also, U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher, who arrives in Brazil today, will ask the Brazilian government for documentation to show Pang was extradited without restriction.

Pang’s return ends nearly a year of effort by prosecutors. He has been charged here with arson and four counts of first-degree murder in the fire at the Mary Pang frozen-foods warehouse, which prosecutors say was set to collect insurance money.

Arson deaths in Brazil are not considered murders if the fire was not intended to kill.

Last week, the Brazilian high court published its final extradition order, which a Brazilian justice ministry official interpreted to mean that Pang could be tried on arson and second-degree murder charges.

That is the ruling in dispute.

Pang’s Seattle attorney, John Henry Browne, has said he will appeal to the federal courts if prosecutors try to arraign Pang on a murder charge.

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