Geoff Schoos: Plea Agreement Unconscionable

I am elevating Geoff Schoos’ comment on the plea agreement for the Derderian brothers because it gives needed insight into how this agreement harms not only the victims and their families but also the general public:

It is unconscionable that a plea agreement was entertained, let alone formalized, and then for the architect (Attorney General Patrick Lynch) to deny any involvement in it. It is inconceivable that Attorney General Lynch was out of the loop in the most emotionally charged and high profile case to be prosecuted by his office.

A plea agreement is the legal equivalent of “hedging your bets� at Foxwoods. Originally conceived as a means of clearing overcrowded court dockets of “run-of-the-mill� cases where the facts were clear and the outcome was not much in doubt, it has now morphed into a means where both sides work out a deal to avoid a loss. The prosecution can claim a “win�, the defense can claim that it courageously saved the day for its clients and the judge can find solace in not putting the victims through a process that relives the misery of their lives that began the night of the Station fire. All that gets lost under this scenario is the examination of the facts of the case and the ever elusive “search for truth.�

Trials are about more than the conviction or the acquittal of defendants. At their best, they reflect the community’s attempt to right a wrong against one or more of its members. The title of a case, “State vs. ____� or “People vs. _____� reflects the view that an offense against one of us is in fact an offense against all of us. It’s not just the individual victims or their families that cry for justice, it’s all of us. Therefore, in a very real way, this plea agreement with its lenient sentence recommendations, apparently accepted by Judge Darigan, is not just a slap in the face to the victims and their families. It is a slap to all Rhode Islanders who looked to this trial for an exposition of the facts that led to this tragedy, the punishment – if appropriate – of the guilty parties, and a sense that “justice� was served.

All of that is denied the victims of the Station fire and their families. Over the summer I had the opportunity to meet with a family member of a victim of the fire. She was the mother of a woman who died at the Station nightclub. During our brief conversation, she was outraged that Daniel Biechle was given a plea agreement that resulted in his imprisonment for only four years. However, she held out some hope that her daughter’s death would in some measure be vindicated by the trial of the Derderians. Other than that faint hope, she had lost all interest in any governmental institution and struggled each day with her loss. Judge Darigan is wrong when he says that this deal would spare the victims and their families from having to relive the pain of their lives – they have nothing left from which to be spared.

And after all this, who can blame the woman I met and others like her for feeling like forgotten pawns to be sacrificed in a bigger chess game.

There is hardly time to organize public protest as this decision is scheduled to be finalized Friday, but if you want to let your opinion on this be known, you can call Patrick Lynch’s office at 274-4400 x2359.