September 21, 2006

Judge Decided on Station Fire Plea Deal

Marc Comtois

Earlier, I asked "who made the decision?" to accept a plea deal in the Station Fire court case. We now have our answer:

Superior Court Associate Justice Francis J. Darigan said this afternoon that he decided to accept a plea in The Station nightclub fire case to spare victims' families and the state the trauma of criminal trials.

Darigan also acknowledged that he approved the terms of the deal with club co-owners Michael and Jeffrey Derderian over the objection of the state Attorney General's Office.

The Derderian brothers each have agreed to plead no contest to 100 involuntary manslaughter charges, effectively ending the criminal prosecution against them. The charges represented the 100 who died in the Feb. 20, 2003, blaze, the worst in the state's history.

In exchange for their pleas, Darigan has agreed to a sentence of no jail time for Jeffrey Derderian and four years to serve in prison for Michael Derderian.

The news of the deal, which has not yet been accepted in court, came in a letter to victims' families released yesterday by Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch.

In a followup address to reporters this afternoon at the Kent County Courthouse, Darigan said a trial would "serve to further traumatize and victimize" not only the families of the victims but the entire state.

Darigan addressed the reporters for 25 minutes, reading from a letter he said he sent last night to families of the victims and also reading from a statement.

He also criticized the Attorney General's Office for what he called leaking news of the agreement to the press yesterday, calling it unethical.

In the letter Darigan sent to the victims’ families, he spoke about the sentences for the brothers.

“The difference in the sentences between the two defendants reflects their respective involvement with regard to the purchase and installation of the foam in question,” Darigan wrote. “It is my belief for the reasons stated above that the sentences I will impose are reasonably appropriate in light of all of the facts and circumstances as I understand them.”

The fire at the club started after the band Great White's pyrotechnics ignited foam used as soundproofing around the stage.

Darigan then read from a prepared statement, in which he criticized the way the plea agreement became public.

“The premature leak of the attorney general’s letter to the media by an anonymous source was unethical, reprehensible, devoid of any consideration for the victims of this tragedy and totally abrogated an agreement reached after weeks of discussion between the parties in this case,” he said. “This court sincerely regrets – beyond the court’s ability to articulate – the shock, anger, disbelief and sense of betrayal some of the families must feel because of the despicable action taken by the anonymous source within the Attorney General’s Office.”

Darigan said he would like the media to focus less on the back-and-forth between the Attorney General’s Office and the court and more on the merits of the plea agreement.

This should put to rest the rumors that AG Lynch wanted the case to go away. Now the only question is: What was the motivation for someone in his office to leak this to the press? What purpose did it serve? Did they think that leaking it would help the AG get ahead of the story and enable him to put a positive spin on it while disavowing his acquiesence to any deal? If so, it backfired. Most of the armchair analysis I heard today was based on the assumption--supported by the Derdarians' lawyer--that the AGs office proffered the deal. By being the first out of the gate, the AG's office ended up giving the impression that they were engaging in damage control. That was a mistake. It has also somewhat diverted attention from the fact that the Derdarian's lawyer has a few questions to answer, though I suspect the questions are now being asked of her motivation for apparently lying about the source of the plea deal. Unless, of course, she didn't know the judge had made the decision and assumed that the deal was based on earlier discussions between the AGs office and herself. We'll have to wait to find out.

Lost in all of this is what I believe to be what most of the victims families feel about the judge "sparing them" a long trial. As Dave Kane, who lost a son in the fire said on the Dave Barber show this morning, he has to live with this ordeal every day, whether or not the trial is going on. As such, he isn't being spared anything.

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"Did they think that leaking it would help the AG get ahead of the story and enable him to put a positive spin on it while disavowing his acquiesence to any deal?"


Posted by: Will at September 21, 2006 4:52 PM


How did you arrive at the conclusion that Lynch did not want this case to go away?
The deal accepted by the judge came from the AG's office who then tried to pull it off the table.
Repeat after me: Plausible deniability.
No one is happier this case will never go to trial than Patrick Lynch.
What was it three weeks after the fire when his office sought records from the town of West Warwick?
That's three weeks worth of edit time for that Demcratic town hall.

Posted by: Tim at September 21, 2006 6:22 PM

Darigan overstepped his boundaries. Last time I checked, a judge in a US court is not the finder of fact nor is his role to determine guilt or innocence. This is a slap in the face to all those who lost friends and family in the station fire. Any agony caused by a trial would surely not come close to the agony caused by the loss of a loved one--a loss that occurred at the hands of the Derderians.

As for Lynch, I've come to expect it. If the GOP had a strong candidate for AG, Lynch would be toast. If this doesn't propel Bill Harsch, nothing will.

Posted by: Anthony at September 21, 2006 9:53 PM

I'm not willing to jump to the same conclusions as you. The "note" printed in the journal doesn't prove anything, and we are left with a she said/he said. I agree that it sure seems like the AG never wanted to bring public officials to trial, but I think he was more than willing to prosecute the club owners. And to be totally cynical, the theater of a high profile trial could have been seen as a plus for him politically this November.

But regardless of that, I'm less interested in any political calculations than in the points that Dave Kane brings up. Namely, the families don't need to spared as they live with the trauma daily and what they really want is answers.

Posted by: Marc Comtois at September 21, 2006 10:21 PM