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May 10, 2006

You make the call: sentencing in The Station nightclub fire

As detailed in all the coverage from CourtTV and from the Boston Channel, a remarkable state sentencing proceeding is unfolding this week in Rhode Island.  Three years ago, a fire at The Station nightclub killed 100 people and injured more than 200.  Daniel Biechele, the road manager of the band Great White, started the show's deadly pyrotechnics, and earlier this year he pled guilty to 100 counts of involuntary manslaughter.  His sentencing hearing on Monday and Tuesday was filled with emotional victim impact testimony, and he is due to receive his sentence on Wednesday. 

As some stories have noted, prosecutors are seeking the maximum sentence, 10 years in prison, based on claims that Biechele acted negligently and recklessly.  But Biechele's lawyers, who say he was unaware of the firetrap conditions, want Biechele sentenced to community service.  I am pretty sure that the sentencing judge has complete discretion (and little formal guidance from Rhode Island law) when selecting a sentence for Biechele.

So, fair readers, you make the call:  What sentence should Biechele get?

If you want some comparative background, you might read up on the aftermath of other infamous nightclub fires in American history, such as the Coconut Grove fire in Massachusetts, the Rhythm Night Club fire in Mississippi, or the Beverly Hills Supper Club fire

Though I am going to be off-line until later this afternoon, I'll update this post to report what sentence Biechele in fact receives.

UPDATE:  The outcome is reported in this post, "Four-year sentence in The Station nightclub fire."

May 10, 2006 at 08:14 AM | Permalink

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Comments

He's going to prison. He shouldn't but he almost certainly will. This is one of those cases, it seems to me, where the civil system would have been a more appropriate venue. My vote: A fine, community service, and probation. And unless there is something I haven't seen suggesting more clearly that he really should have known about the condition of the fireproofing, I'd say that was just.

Posted by: David | May 10, 2006 9:32:58 AM

I second that, he'll get 5-8 years in prison due to the excessive TV coverage of the "victim impact statements." Why sobbing victims are relevant to criminal sentencing I'll never understand--it's an appeal to emotion and completely irrelevent to what sentence should be imposed for a given crime. But the judge will not want to appear "soft" in light of crying people.

Posted by: bruce | May 10, 2006 12:54:33 PM

It's easy to find neglicence and recklessness after-the-fact. Putting Biechele in prison ruins another life, but does nothing to bring back the 100 lives that were lost. I've seen nothing to suggest that a reasonable person in his position knew, or should have known, that this was going to happen. He does not present an ongoing danger to society, or to himself. He should be given a sentence of community service. Obviously, he won't be.

I agree with Bruce that victim impact statements are an appeal to irrationality, and an invitation to substitute emotion for reason.

Posted by: Marc Shepherd | May 10, 2006 1:10:47 PM

I vote for 2 years, but expect him to get 6+. Just to disagree with Bruce, I would note that Bichele (perhaps foolishly) pled to the mental element of the crime, so you have read at least one thing to suggest a modicum of responsibility with respect to the fire. The untold story here is that the club had been approved 6 times by the fire inspector, and the owners are still probably going to go to charged and faced with jail because there is no way to hold the inspector responsible. But if they believe they should not go to jail because they believe themselves INNOCENT, then they should not plead! The Constitution entitles us to juries -- it is the true obsolescene of public government if we think our only chances are at sentencing with a legal elite and not before our peers.

Posted by: EFC | May 10, 2006 2:41:37 PM

15 years, 11 suspended... a fair sentence in my opinion. Biechele owned up to his role in the fire and likely saved the taxpayers millions by foregoing a criminal trial. He is clearly remorseful and at the young age of 29, has to live with consequences of these events for the majority of his natural life. The club owners have claimed that permission was never given for the use of pyrotechnics, however (even if that is true), the club managers on site that evening would have seen them being set up and did nothing to prevent their use... The owners & city inspectors are the ones to be help criminally responsible for repeatedly ignoring established safety codes regarding both the fire hazard(s) and capacity violations. Let them spend the rest of their lives in prison. Biechele has shown the willingness to spend his life doing what he can to attone for his role in all of this.

Posted by: brenda | May 10, 2006 5:34:54 PM

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