The wheels of justice grind slowly in Rhode Island, but at last, Daniel Biechele (pictured above) has finally been sentenced for his role in the 2003 Station Nightclub disaster in West Warwick.
Biechele, who pleaded guilty to 100 counts of involuntary manslaughter in February, will serve four years of a 15 year sentence with 11 suspended. The state prosecutor had urged Judge Francis Darigan Jr. for the maximum sentence allowed under Biechele's plea agreement (10 years with five suspended), but Darigan apparently found Mr. Biechele's statements of contrition genuine. Not everyone was so pleased. CNN's report says a man stormed out of Darigan's courtroom shouting "typical fucking Rhode Island!", but the Providence Journal (registration required) has no mention of their account of this story.
After his setencing hearing, Biechele was led away in handcuffs to being serving his sentence in the minimum security ward at the ACI in Cranston, where, if he behaves himself, he will become eligible for work release.
So am I outraged by the failure of the state to lean on Biechele as hard as they could? No. While acknowledging that 100 people died by sheer criminal negligence, there was certainly no malice aforethought here. Biechele and Great White did not stroll into West Warwick planning to burn down a building and kill people, and club owners did not plan to stuff their ancient building full of flammable foam insulation, and patrons did not intend to panic and block the exits. It just all came together to form the worst fire disaster in state history, and as much as the survivors and families of the dead want to scream and shout about it, Judge Darigan is acknowledging as much with the sentence imposed on Biechele.
The sad fact is that nobody could have seen it coming, which is why it happened to begin with. The fact that everyone went into that night expecting business as usual is exactly what makes the entire incident so depressing to begin with.
The legal process isn't done with this yet, however. Next up on the block will be the owners of The Station, brothers Jeffrey and Michael Derderian. Their indictments may be found here and here respectively (watch out - PDF files). I get the feeling that this may be going on well into 2007, which probaby would be "typical fucking Rhode Island".