For Providence Superior Court Judge Francis J. Darigan, Jr., who has spent more than 22 years as a jurist, the four-year prison sentence imposed on Daniel Biechele in the big Rhode Island nightclub fire case was the most difficult of his career, says the Providence Journal. He knew that whatever penalty he meted out would be controversial. Biechele had admitted unintentionally causing 100 deaths by setting off fireworks at a rock show.
Darigan was in uncharted territory. There are no sentencing benchmarks in Rhode Island for involuntary manslaughter. The judge was hemmed in by a plea agreement the defense worked out with Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch after Biechele agreed to admit guilt: 15 years, with 10 years at most to serve, the rest to be suspended with probation. Prosecutors asked the court to send Biechele to prison for 10 years. Biechele’s lawyer called that recommendation “brutal” and “draconian.” When a ferry boat captain pleaded guilty to a 2003 crash in Staten Island in which 11 people were killed and 34 others injured, he was sentenced to just 18 months in prison. A East Providence, R.I., police officer who accidentally killed his commanding officer when he thought he was “dry firing” his rifle got a deferred sentence after pleading no contest to involuntary manslaughter. If he stays out of trouble for five years, he will have no record of conviction.