PROVIDENCE, R.I. – After 100 people were killed in a nightclub fire three years ago, Attorney General Patrick Lynch promised to prosecute the two brothers who own the club to the fullest extent of the law.
But plea agreements that would give Michael Derderian four years in prison and spare Jeffrey Derderian any prison time have enraged victims' family members, some of whom are directing their anger at Lynch.
The attorney general has also raised the ire of the presiding judge in the case, who angrily accused Lynch's office on Thursday of leaking details of the plea deals.
In a letter to the families of the victims, Lynch insists that he is vehemently opposed to the deal and did not agree to the sentences set by Judge Francis Darigan Jr.
But some families are blasting Lynch for what they see as a sweet deal for the Derderians.
Michelle Hoell, 34, of West Warwick, who lost her 29-year-old sister, Tammy Mattera-Housa, in the fire, said she blamed Lynch for leading victims' families to believe his prosecutors could secure substantial prison sentences for the brothers.
"If I were to punch Patrick Lynch, would I get more time than the Derderians?" Hoell asked. "After three years, we thought this was going to be our justice, and now it isn't."
The fire at The Station nightclub in West Warwick was sparked by pyrotechnics during a concert by the rock band Great White. The pyrotechnics ignited flammable foam that had been placed on the walls of the club as soundproofing.
The Derderian brothers and Great White tour manager Daniel Biechele were indicted on involuntary manslaughter charges.
Lynch, who took office just six weeks before the fire on Feb. 20, 2003, has been targeted by families who believe he has not been aggressive enough in prosecuting those responsible for the deadliest fire in Rhode Island's history.
He has also been criticized for not bringing charges against fire marshals or building inspectors for failing to cite the nightclub for code violations, or against members of Great White. Lynch has said it was up to the grand jury to decide whom to indict, not him.
Family members also reviled Lynch after Biechele pleaded guilty in May in a deal in which he received a four-year prison term.
Lynch said he understands the families' anger.
"I'm attorney general. We live with people who are in great pain and we try desperately to assist them whenever we can," he said in an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday.
The judge reprimanded Lynch's office for leaking word of the plea agreements to the news media before the victims' relatives learned of the deals.
Speaking from the bench, Darigan called Wednesday's release of a letter from Lynch to victims' families despicable, unethical and "devoid of any consideration for the victims of this tragedy."
The letter was faxed anonymously to WJAR-TV. The Providence Journal also received a copy. "Without question this information emanated from the attorney general's department," Darigan said.
Lynch said that he felt it "inappropriate" to assume that his office leaked the letter to the media.
He did not answer whether he thought the leak came from his office or whether he plans to investigate.
The Derderians are expected to plead no contest Sept. 29 to 100 counts of involuntary manslaughter.
Both brothers are to receive suspended prison sentences and probation. Their lawyer, Kathleen Hagerty, said Michael Derderian's sentence is more serious than Jeffrey's because he bought the foam that helped the fire quickly burn out of control.