PROVIDENCE, R.I. – A former rock-band manager whose pyrotechnics caused a nightclub fire that killed 100 people was sentenced Wednesday to four years in prison, drawing sobs and groans from victims' relatives who hoped to see the man serve more time behind bars.
Some were so angered by the sentence given to Daniel Biechele — who could have received 10 years — that they stormed out of the courtroom. One man yelled "Typical (expletive) Rhode Island."
"What do you think of your son now?" Patricia Belanger shouted to Biechele's mother. Belanger, who lost her 30-year-old daughter, Dina Ann DeMaio, told reporters afterward: "Now it's her turn to suffer, just like we've been suffering because of her son."
Before sentencing, Biechele gazed downward and choked back tears as he apologized for the Feb. 20, 2003, blaze at The Station nightclub in West Warwick.
"I don't know that I'll ever forgive myself for what happened that night, so I can't expect anyone else to," he said, his lip quivering. "I never wanted anyone to be hurt in any way. I never imagined that anyone ever would be."
Testimony from victims' relatives Monday and Tuesday left lawyers, court officials and at one point the defendant himself in tears. Some described a grief so powerful that they could not get out of bed in the morning, and said they looked forward to nothing except being reunited with their loved ones in death.
Biechele, 29, pleaded guilty to 100 counts of involuntary manslaughter in February in a deal he struck with prosecutors.
He was the tour manager for the heavy metal band Great White when he lit a pyrotechnics display that ignited highly flammable foam that lined the walls and ceiling of the nightclub. The foam was used as soundproofing and was placed there by the owners after neighbors complained about noise.
Victims included the band's guitarist Ty Longley. Many of those killed were quickly overcome by fumes emitted by the foam or became trapped in a crush at the front door.
Superior Court Judge Francis Darigan Jr. gave Biechele less than half the sentence he could have received. Victims' families briefly thought Biechele was getting a 15-year sentence, but the judge suspended 11 years of that term.
"We've already suffered almost that long — four years. We've already suffered that long," said Annmarie Swidwa, whose 25-year-old daughter, Bridget Sanetti, died in the fire.
DeMaio's sister, Jessica Garvey, called the sentence "infuriating" and "ridiculous."
"Four years is nothing," she said outside court.
In explaining his sentence, Darigan told Biechele, "The greatest sentence that can be imposed upon you has been imposed upon you by yourself, that is having to live a life, an entire life, knowing that your actions were the proximate cause of the deaths of 100 people."
Biechele, the first person to be sentenced for the fire, was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs and transported to the state prison in Cranston to begin serving his sentence. The owners of the club are awaiting trial on manslaughter charges.
"I feel some compassion for Mr. Biechele, perhaps even more so for his family," Attorney General Patrick Lynch told reporters outside the courthouse. But he said he felt more for the "hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people" who are more deeply affected by the fire.
Biechele's lawyer, Tom Briody, had asked the judge to show mercy and sentence Biechele to community service.
Briody said his client is the only person to accept responsibility and is truly remorseful, having written letters of apology to the families that will be given to them later. He added that Biechele had no way of knowing the hazardous conditions inside the club, which he likened to a tinderbox.
Prosecutors had asked for the maximum.
"The devastation wrought by the conduct of the defendant is unparalleled in our state's history," prosecutor Randall White said, occasionally choking up in court. "The suffering is endless, and the extent and depth of the pain is bottomless."
The fire, the fourth-deadliest nightclub blaze in U.S. history, scarred a state small enough that many of its residents seemed to know at least one person at the club that night who was injured or killed.
The owners of The Station, brothers Jeffrey and Michael Derderian, are accused of installing the flammable foam and are charged with 200 counts of involuntary manslaughter — two counts for each person killed, under separate legal theories.
Michael Derderian is scheduled to go to trial on July 31; no trial date has been set for his brother.
Biechele has said Michael Derderian gave him permission to use the pyrotechnics at The Station; the Derderians have said he did not have permission.
Biechele and the Derderians are also among dozens of defendants being sued by survivors of the fire and victims' relatives.