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Great White - Station Fire Update: Judge Rebukes AG's Office for Leak of Plea Deal

By Newsferatu, Writer
Thursday, September 21, 2006 @ 2:27 PM


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From The Associated Press:

The judge overseeing the criminal case in a deadly nightclub fire issued a stinging rebuke of Attorney General Patrick Lynch's office Thursday, saying it leaked word of plea agreements for the club's owners before victims' relatives learned of the deals.

Speaking from the bench, Judge Francis Darigan called Wednesday's release of a letter from Lynch to victims' families "despicable," unethical and "devoid of any consideration for the victims of this tragedy."

The letter detailed plea agreements for Michael and Jeffrey Derderian, whose attorney confirms they will plead no contest to a count of involuntary manslaughter for each of the 100 people killed in the 2003 fire at the brothers' West Warwick nightclub.

The letter was faxed anonymously to WJAR-TV Wednesday. The Providence Journal also received a copy. "Without question this information emanated from the attorney general's department," Darigan said.

The judge's angry comments follow others from many victims' relatives, upset not only because the plea deals were leaked but because of the expected sentences: Michael Derderian is to get four years in prison and his brother is expected to get no prison time.

The brothers installed flammable soundproofing material that allowed the fire, started by a band's pyrotechnics, to spread rapidly through the wooden nightclub.

Lynch said in a statement issued Thursday that he opposed the plea deal and was disappointed with the terms Darigan approved, but Kathleen Hagerty, a lawyer for the Derderians, said it was Lynch's office that proposed the terms, last month and again this month.

Mike Healey, a spokesman for Lynch, did not return telephone messages or an e-mail seeking comment on the note or Darigan's comments. However, Lynch said he would speak with reporters later Thursday.

Hagerty gave The Associated Press a handwritten document dated Sept. 7 that lays out nearly identical terms, including sentences. Hagerty said a prosecutor gave her the note after she asked for the terms in writing.

The judge said Lynch's office was actively engaged in the early negotiations for the deal, but lawyers for both sides were unable to reach an agreement.

"The attorney general was fully aware of the disposition which the court intended to impose in these cases long before his letter was drafted and surreptitiously given to the media," Darigan said.

The Derderians are expected to plead no contest Sept. 29 to 100 counts of involuntary manslaughter; they will not need to change their not guilty pleas to another 100 involuntary manslaughter counts filed under a separate legal theory.

Both brothers are to receive suspended prison sentences and probation, but Michael Derderian is the only one expected to serve prison time. Hagerty said Michael Derderian's sentence is more serious than Jeffrey's because he bought the foam that helped the fire quickly burn out of control.

The prison term to be imposed on Michael Derderian is the same one received in May by band manager Daniel Biechele, who set off the pyrotechnics and pleaded guilty earlier this year to 100 counts of involuntary manslaughter.


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