Great White - Station Fire Update: Pleas Set For Tomorrow

By Newsferatu, Writer
Thursday, September 28, 2006 @ 12:33 AM

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From the Providence Journal (www.projo.com):

One of the biggest criminal cases in Rhode Island's history culminates tomorrow morning in Courtroom 4E in the new Kent County Court House, when the brothers who owned The Station nightclub will be sentenced for the fire that killed 100 people there three years ago.

Jeffrey and Michael Derderian are scheduled to plead no contest to involuntary manslaughter charges, which ends the criminal prosecution against them. In exchange for their pleas, Superior Court Judge Francis J. Darigan Jr. has agreed to sentence Michael Derderian to four years in prison and issue a suspended sentence to Jeffrey Derderian.

The case has attracted national attention, and the court is expecting a crush of media and spectators when the courthouse doors open at 8:30 a.m. Space is limited inside Courtroom 4E, so there are overflow rooms for spectators at Courtroom 4F and Room 3005.

But before the judge issues his decision, the court will hear from those whose lives were changed by the deadly fire.

There are 25 people who've asked to give victim impact statements to the court, said courts spokesman Craig N. Berke. Others are submitting written statements to the judge, who will collect them all by the end of the day today and read them tonight in preparation for the hearing.

When court begins at 9:30 a.m. tomorrow, Darigan will give his opening remarks on the case and review the guidelines of the victim impact statements. The speakers have already been issued written guidelines on addressing the court, Berke said.

The speakers are each allowed five minutes to give their statements. After that, the judge will take the change of plea. The prosecution and the defense attorneys will speak. The Derderians are also expected to address the court.

After that, the judge will issue his decision on the plea arrangement.

The court anticipates completing the hearing tomorrow. If necessary, the hearing will continue to Tuesday.

Jeffrey Derderian, 39, will receive a 10-year suspended sentence, 3 years of probation and 500 hours of community service.

Word of the plea agreement was leaked last week, inciting a controversy over the proposed sentences for the brothers. Michael A. Derderian, 45, is to serve 4 years in prison followed by 3 years of probation and an 11-year suspended sentence.

While the Derderians' defense attorneys say that Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch's office proposed the plea agreement, Lynch denies that and said the judge set the sentence terms over his objections.

Darigan has said that he decided how the plea would be resolved when the prosecution and defense couldn't reach an agreement.

In a letter to the fire victims, the judge wrote that avoiding a trial was in the best interests of all the parties. He accepted the pleas because he was convinced that the trials "would only serve to further traumatize and victimize not only the loved ones of the deceased and the survivors of the fire, but the general public as well," the judge wrote.

In May, Darigan sentenced Daniel M. Biechele - the tour manager for Great White who set off fireworks that started the fire and the only accused person to plead guilty - to four years in prison and three years of probation.

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