PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Relatives of the 100 people killed in a 2003 nightclub fire sparked by a rock band's pyrotechnics are furious that the club owners are pleading no contest to involuntary manslaughter charges and that one of them will avoid prison.
For family members still upset that only three men were charged in the fire, the pleas from brothers Jeffrey and Michael Derderian mark the latest stinging disappointment in the criminal case stemming from the deadly blaze.
"From the beginning it's been a farce," said John Richmond, whose daughter, Kelly Vieira, 40, died in the fire.
Michael Derderian, 45, will be sentenced to serve four years in prison, said his attorney, Kathleen Hagerty. Jeffrey Derderian, who is in his 40s, will be spared prison and receive a suspended 10-year sentence with three years probation and 500 hours of community service.
They are scheduled to change their not guilty pleas on Sept. 29, according to a letter from state Attorney General Patrick Lynch.
The brothers' plea arrangement shuts down jury selection in Michael Derderian's trial, which began earlier this month. Jeffrey Derderian's was to be tried separately.
The fire on Feb. 20, 2003, at The Station nightclub in West Warwick began when pyrotechnics used by the heavy metal band Great White ignited foam placed as soundproofing around the stage. The flames quickly spread, enveloping the one-story wooden building and trapping concertgoers. Besides the fatalities, more than 200 were injured.
Both brothers were charged with 200 counts of involuntary manslaughter — two counts for each person killed under separate legal theories. A count of involuntary manslaughter carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison.
"All I can say is that Jeffrey and Michael Derderian are looking to put a resolution to this and to avoid any further pain to any of the victims' families or survivors of the tragedy," Hagerty told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.
Hagerty said Michael Derderian is receiving a stiffer sentence than his brother because he purchased the soundproofing foam.
The state attorney general called victims' families on Wednesday to tell them about the pleas, said his spokesman Michael Healey. Their reactions had been a mix of anguish, shock and disappointment, he said.
Lynch also wrote a letter dated Wednesday to the families in which he voiced his objection to the proposed sentences.
"Most significantly, I strongly disagree with the Court's intention to sentence Jeffrey Derderian to less than jail," Lynch wrote. He added, however, that the pleas mean the brothers are accepting criminal responsibility "despite months of denials."
In May, former Great White tour manager Daniel Biechele was sentenced to four years in prison after pleading guilty to 100 counts of involuntary manslaughter. He was accused of igniting the pyrotechnics without a permit. Great White was a Grammy-nominated heavy metal band that made its name in the 1980s. Ty Longley, the band's guitarist, died in the fire.
Some victims' relatives angrily walked out of the courtroom after Biechele was sentenced.
Still, the Derderians bear the brunt of anger from victims' relatives who see them as stingy club owners who placed profit above safety.
"I can't believe the attorney general is just going to stand by and say OK to this," said Diane Mattera, whose 29-year-old daughter, Tammy Mattera-Housa, died in the fire.
Lynch is running for re-election in November. He had been in office just a few weeks at the time of the fire and many victims' family members have criticized how he handled the case. Several suggested that charges should have been filed against the band members and fire inspectors who failed to cite the Derderians for using the flammable foam.
Robert Bruyere, whose stepdaughter, Bonnie Hamelin, died in the fire, said he learned about the Derderian pleas on the evening news and had not yet heard from the attorney general.
"He better hope I don't see him in person, because I'll be in jail," he said in a telephone interview as his wife, Claire, sobbed in the background.