Prosecutors seek maximum prison term for nightclub fire defendant

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) – Prosecutors said Monday they would seek the maximum prison term for a former rock band tour manager who ignited pyrotechnics that sparked a deadly 2003 fire.

Daniel Biechele pleaded guilty two months ago for his role in The Station nightclub fire and could serve a maximum of 10 years in prison under his plea agreement. The sentence will be determined by Superior Court Judge Francis Darigan.

Biechele, meanwhile, has written personal letters of apology to family members of all 100 people killed in the fire. The handwritten letters have been delivered to Darigan and will be given to family members sometime after Biechele’s sentencing hearing next month.

“Mr. Biechele feels genuine sorrow at what happened in this case, and he’s been wanting to say something to the victims for a long time,” Biechele’s lawyer, Tom Briody, said Monday.

Biechele, former tour manager for the rock band Great White, pleaded guilty to 100 counts of involuntary manslaughter for setting off the pyrotechnics that triggered the Feb. 20, 2003, fire at the West Warwick nightclub. Sparks from the pyrotechnics ignited flammable foam affixed to the walls and ceiling of the club.

The attorney general’s office announced late Monday that it had filed a memo recommending that Biechele receive the toughest prison term possible under the plea deal, saying Biechele had acted “callously, carelessly, irresponsibly and criminally.”

But it also acknowledged that Biechele, 29, has no prior criminal history, has accepted responsibility for the fire and has long cooperated with investigators.

His sentencing hearing is scheduled to begin May 8 and could last several days as relatives of those killed are able to address the judge or provide written statements of how the fire had an impact on their lives. Court TV will broadcast the hearing.

The letters from Biechele were given directly to the judge since Biechele did not have addresses for the victims’ families, said court spokesman Craig Berke.

Briody would not say whether he would ask Darigan to weigh the letters as a factor for a lighter sentence, but he did say it was Biechele’s decision to write the notes.

Diane Mattera, whose 29-year-old daughter, Tammy, died in the fire, said an apology letter would not ease her grief, and it’s coming too late.

“He is a direct link to the cause of the accident that took a hundred lives and maimed over 200 other people,” Mattera said. “How is a letter going to change that? I know he did not set out that evening to do any kind of damage whatsoever, but what good is a letter of apology? How is that going to help any of us?”

Charges are still pending against the owners of the nightclub, brothers Jeffrey and Michael Derderian, who each face 200 counts of involuntary manslaughter. Michael Derderian is scheduled to stand trial July 31.

At the plea hearing in February, a prosecutor said there was evidence that Biechele received permission from Michael Derderian to set off the pyrotechnics. The Derderians have maintained that no such permission was ever given.

Biechele did not have the required permits to ignite the explosives.

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