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Former Great White Manager Expected To Plead Guilty To Involuntary Manslaughter

Daniel Biechele would serve up to 10 years for role in deadly club fire.

Former Great White manager Daniel Biechele is expected to plead guilty to 100 counts of involuntary manslaughter on February 7 as part of a plea deal that'll see him serving no more than 10 years behind bars for his role in a deadly 2003 club fire.

The deal was announced Tuesday afternoon (January 31) by Superior Court Judge Francis Darigan, according to The Boston Globe.

Before the plea agreement, Biechele was facing 200 counts of involuntary manslaughter stemming from his alleged role in the deaths of 100 people who died in the February 2003 inferno that consumed the Station nightclub in West Warwick, Rhode Island (see [article id="1471728"]"Great White Fire Claims 100th Life"[/article]). The fire -- the fourth-deadliest nightclub blaze in the country's history -- was ignited when Great White's onstage pyrotechnics lit the flammable soundproofing foam that lined the club's walls.

Great White guitarist Ty Longley was among those who died. More than 200 people suffered fire-related injuries. Biechele had originally pleaded not guilty to the 200 counts, as have Station owners Jeffrey and Michael Derderian. All three men were charged with two counts for each of the 100 people killed -- one count for alleged criminal negligence, and the other for allegedly committing the underlying offenses that led to the deaths and the unsafe conditions that fueled the fire (see [article id="1481030"]"Great White Manager, Club Owners Hit With Criminal Charges"[/article]).

The Derderians were accused of violating fire codes by using non-flame-resistant soundproofing foam. Biechele was alleged to have set off pyrotechnics without obtaining a permit. Biechele maintains he had been given permission to use pyrotechnics, a claim the Derderians have challenged. Lawyers for Biechele could not be reached for comment.

The plea bargain comes nearly two months after Darigan's refusal to dismiss manslaughter charges against the Derderians and Biechele (see [article id="1517501"]"Judge Upholds Manslaughter Charges In Great White Fire Case"[/article]). In October, lawyers for the defendants asked Darigan to dismiss half the counts in the indictment, and a month later they charged that the prosecution had withheld case-critical evidence.

In early December, a U.S. District Court Judge turned down a defense motion to dismiss a massive negligence case against the town of West Warwick, which was filed by more than 250 people who were either injured in the fire or lost family members to the blaze. Longley's girlfriend, who was pregnant at the time of his death, was among the plaintiffs.

Relatives of some of the victims were incensed by Tuesday's news.

"My daughter's life is worth more than a plea bargain," Diane Mattera told the Globe, referring to her late 29-year-old daughter, Tammy. "For the 100 victims, and for all the ones that are burnt and scarred and everything else, they deserve much more than this -- not a plea bargain. This is absolutely wrong."

"It's hard today," Rosanna Fontaine, who lost her 22-year-old son, Mark, told the paper. "I don't think we hold out much hope that anyone really is going to be held accountable."

The plea deal could impact the case still pending against the Derderians, according to former prosecutor David Frank. He said in an interview with the Globe that this week's development could make it easier for the Derderians' attorneys to lay all the blame on Biechele.

"His lawyer isn't there to sort of present his side of the story or present his spin," Frank said. "So it really allows the Derderians to put whatever blame or whatever responsibility they think is appropriate on this manager."