Station Fire Plea Deal: Who Made the Decision?
One of the very first blog posts I ever wrote was in reaction to the Station Night Club fire. Now the ProJo and other outlets are reporting that the Derderian’s have agreed to a plea deal and that there will be no trial. The one big question is: Who offered the deal?
Attorney-General Patrick Lynch has sent a letter to the victims’ families explaining that he disagrees with the plea deal:
Superior Court Associate Justice Francis J. Darigan Jr., has advised my office that, on September 29, 2006, he will allow Defendants Michael Derderian and Jeffrey Derderian to withdraw their ”not guilty” pleas and enter “nolo contendere” (meaning no contest) pleas to one hundred counts of involuntary manslaughter. The nolo contendere pleas are equivalent to admissions of guilt by Michael Derderian and Jeffrey Derderian. Judge Darigan is expected to sentence each Defendant for those crimes after hearing from the victims. Depending upon the number of victims who appear, sentencing may occur on that same date….
….I want each of you to understand that as Attorney General, I have not agreed to this disposition, and I will continue to strongly voice my objection.
….Faced with evidence gathered by my office, in conjunction with the West Warwick Police, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Warwick Police, the Rhode Island State Fire Marshal and the Rhode Island State Police, and with the expected testimony of Daniel Biechele, both Michael Derderian and Jeffrey Derderian last week informed Judge Darigan that they were prepared to accept responsibility for their roles in the fire at The Station nightclub and change their not guilty pleas.
Despite their desire to admit to the charges against them, I was unwilling to recommend or agree to the sentences that I have been advised the Court will impose.
Subsequently, Judge Darigan decided that, in light of the Defendants’ willingness to plead to one hundred counts of involuntary manslaughter, he would accept those pleas without the agreement of my office. Though it had been my desire to bring these cases to trial….the law shows the Court to accept a change of plea without the Attorney General’s agreement.
Judge Darigan has stated that he has taken into consideration what he anticipates would be the untold emotional impact and pain that two trials, each of which could last upwards of four months, would inevitably cause…
I respectfully disagree with, and object to, the sentences that the Court intends to impose on Michael Derderian and Jeffrey Derderian. Most significantly, I strongly disagree with the Court’s intention to sentence Jeffrey Derderian to less than jail.
Notwithstanding my objection to, the sentences that Judge Darigan intends to impose, there can be no dispute that the right to a trial that the United States Constitution affords is a right that belongs to the accused, not to the State. In other words, our system of justice does not allow the State to demand a trial; that right belongs exclusively to the criminal defendant.
The Derderian’s attorney, Kathleen Hagerty, disputes the Attorney-General’s explanation:
Kathleen Hagerty, lawyer for the Derderians, disputes Lynch’s claim and told NBC 10’s Brian Crandall that “the attorney general made that offer to us on Aug. 10, and at the time, the Derderians rejected the deal” wanting to go to trial so that “everyone would know what happened, and that the truth about the fire would come out.”
Hagerty continued saying that after talking to potential witnesses, it was just too painful and that the Derderians wanted to spare the witnesses, survivors and the families from reliving the horrors of that night. As a result, the Derderians went back and “Judge (Darigan) honored the attorney general’s offer despite them trying to renege on it.”
And Judge Darigan has also issued a statement, according to the ProJo story:
Darigan did not return a call seeking comment last night, but a courts spokesman released a statement. “There is a plan for the dignified release of information that is sensitive to the families of the victims of the tragic fire at The Station nightclub,” spokesman Craig N. Berke said. “The premature release of information about this matter is unfortunate and will be answered.” The statement said the court will have a further response around noon today.
Before jumping to conclusions, we must wait to see the source of the plea deal: Judge Darigan or AG Lynch’s office. But regardless of who offered the deal–and despite AG Lynch’s promise that he will make legal materials (evidence) available to the public–the fact is that the lack of a trial will prevent the trial process from doing what it often does best, which is to inform the public. Now we can only hope that the local media will do the digging to fill in the gray areas. In particular, the public deserves to know the culpability of local and state government officials who didn’t properly inspect or permit the Station Night club.