Posted on November 14, 2012 at 12:09 PM
Wednesday, Nov 14 at 6:48 PM
SEATTLE -- There's now a parking lot where the Mary Pang frozen food warehouse once stood in Seattle's International District.
It’s been nearly 18 years since the warehouse burned, sending four firefighters plunging to their deaths when the floor collapsed.
Criminal defense attorney Jeff Ellis remembers the frenzy that followed as police zeroed in on Martin Pang, son of the warehouse owners.
"I remember Mr. Pang being arrested and pleading guilty to the charge,” Ellis said, “I thought it was all over and done with.”
But Ellis said about two years ago, Pang hired him to review his case and possibly get his guilty plea unwound.
"We expect the response to be shock and outrage and I'm sorry about that, but this is about the search for the truth,” Ellis said.
Ellis said the truth is that Pang was in California when the fire was set and that while poring through boxes of documents in the King County Prosecutor’s Office he uncovered some that had been kept secret.
"And those documents were sworn statements by prosecutors and law enforcement officials and they swore out in very definitive terms unequivocally that Mr. Pang was in California at the time the warehouse fire was started,” he said.
Pang knew he was the prime suspect in 1995 and he fled to Brazil. In an exclusive interview with KING 5 back then, Pang said he had been unfairly accused and was the victim of a witch hunt.
“If they have someone to put on the frying pan, then it doesn’t become a senseless death,” Pang said.
But while in jail in Rio, Pang confessed to two FBI agents that he’d flown to Seattle from Los Angeles, set the warehouse fire and then flew back to California to create an alibi. Pang wrote out a confession, signed and dated it on March 16, 1995.
After a lengthy extradition battle Pang was returned to Seattle and in 1998, three years after the fire, he stood before a King County Judge and plead guilty to four counts of manslaughter. Pang was sentenced to 35 years in prison for causing the deaths of the four firefighters.
Ellis now says the confession that led to that guilty plea was coerced. Ellis filed a motion in King County Superior Court in which he states he has uncovered documents that reveal “new evidence that undermines the case against Mr. Pang.”
He said the documents include a search warrant which states “PANG was in California at the time the arson” and a Special Inquiry Subpoena written by a King County Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney which states “Martin Pang was in California when the fire at the Pang Warehouse occurred.”
Ellis said he filed the Motion to Compel Discovery to see what else prosecutor’s are keeping secret.
“Mr. Pang believes that the documents will support the truth that he was in California…and is innocent of this.”
The King County Prosecutor’s Office denies withholding any evidence that could exonerate Pang.
Deputy Chief of Staff Ian Goodhew said the documents Ellis is referring to, stating Pang was in California when the fire started, were written early in the investigation. Goodhew said later their theory shifted. He also said Pang wrote in his own words in his confession that he flew from L.A. to Seattle, set the fire and flew back to California.
Goodhew said that Pang plead guilty because he is guilty.
“We were one hundred percent certain when he plead guilty in the 1990s and we’re one hundred percent certain now and we’re gonna make sure that Mr. Pang serves every day of his prison sentence,” he said.
Pang is serving a 35 year sentence in the Monroe state prison. According to the Washington State Department of Corrections, his earliest possible release date is 2018.
Martin Pang Search Warrant Martin Pang Confession Martin Pang Special Inquiry Martin Pang motion to compel discovery