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Victims' relatives furious as nightclub owners plead no contest in fire that killed 100 in US

Victims' relatives furious as nightclub owners plead no contest in fire that killed 100 in US

Enraged that no one will see more than four years in prison for the 2003 nightclub fire that killed 100 people, victims' relatives vented their fury at a judge as he accepted plea deals from the club's owners in the name of avoiding a graphic, heart-wrenching trial.
Michael Derderian received four years behind bars and his brother, Jeffrey, got no prison time at all after they pleaded no contest to 100 counts of involuntary manslaughter. The fire, sparked by a rock group's pyrotechnics, quickly engulfed The Station nightclub because the Derderians had installed highly flammable foam on the walls to ease neighbors' noise concerns.
Judge Francis Darigan on Friday admonished the victims' relatives not to try to talk him out of the plea deals. But many of them bitterly ignored the warning in a sentencing so turbulent that the judge abruptly recessed the proceedings at one point to defuse the tension in the room.
"Lady Justice in Rhode Island is blind, but she's also deaf," Jay McLaughlin, a relative of two of the victims, told the judge. Other family members applauded as he returned to his seat.
"Before I read my statement, I'd like to just say I will address you, but I will not say `Your Honor.' I don't think you're an honorable man. I don't respect you," said Annmarie Swidwa, the mother of 25-year-old Bridget Sanetti.
Victims' families were angry not only over the sentences but because they believed a trial would have told them more about how and why their loved ones died.
The judge, though, refused to reconsider the plea deals, saying they would spare the victims and all of Rhode Island from having to "relive the moments of this tragedy" through graphic images and descriptions, and that it would "avoid an extremely lengthy, costly and heartrending trial whose outcome was uncertain."
Prosecutors said they objected to the sentences and urged prison time for both men. Defense lawyer Kathleen Hagerty has said prosecutors offered the terms during negotiations, but Darigan took responsibility for the deal Friday.
Governor Don Carcieri also criticized the sentences. "Nobody who witnessed today's emotional testimony could believe that the punishment fit the crime," he said in a statement.
Shortly before the judge imposed the sentence, Jeffrey Derderian _ a 39-year-old former television reporter who was there that night while a TV cameraman filmed footage for a story on safety in public places _ tearfully apologized for the heartache he had caused and recounted the chaotic scene.
"The fire moved so fast. I was scared. I wish I did a better job," he said. "There are many days that I wish I didn't make it out of that building, because if I didn't maybe some of these families would feel better."
He added: "I know you would have liked it if I died, too."
Michael Derderian, 45, who until Friday had not spoken publicly about the fire, also apologized. "We will do everything we can so that every question can be answered _ so that all the facts, not just some of them come out," he said.
Michael Derderian received the harsher sentence because he bought the foam.
The Feb. 20, 2003 blaze _ the fourth-deadliest nightclub fire in U.S. history _ broke out during a concert by the heavy-metal rock band Great White, quickly consuming the one-story wooden building in West Warwick, 13 miles (21 kilometers) south of Providence. More than 200 people were injured, and many of those killed became trapped and died at the doorways, overcome by fumes and smoke.
Great White tour manager Daniel Biechele was sentenced in May to four years in prison after pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter for setting off the pyrotechnics.
The Derderians pleaded no contest to involuntary manslaughter for installing flammable foam that violated the fire code.
A federal lawsuit filed by nearly 300 people who were injured or lost loved ones is pending.


Updated : 2021-10-18 06:34 GMT+08:00