The co-owner of a nightclub where a 2003 fire killed 100 people was granted an early release from prison by the state parole board Wednesday, but will not be freed until October 2009 after serving more than three years of his four-year sentence.
He became eligible for parole this month after completing one-third of his sentence, but faced an uphill battle to get released after discipline problems in prison and pleas to keep him behind bars.
Derderian appeared before the parole board Wednesday, a week after victims’ relatives asked the board to force him to serve his entire sentence, saying he ran a dangerous business and failed to show enough remorse for his role in the disaster.
Parole board Chairwoman Lisa Holley said in a written statement that the board decided to release Derderian next year and not to set another parole hearing because of the "enormity of the loss and trauma suffered by many." All but one member voted to grant parole.
Diane Mattera, whose 29-year-old daughter, Tammy Mattera-Housa, was killed, said she was happy that Derderian would stay in prison longer and that she won’t have to go through the wrenching process of another parole hearing.
"I do not have to go in front of the parole board in a few more months to plead my heart out to keep one of Tammy’s murderers behind bars," she said.
But Chris Fontaine, whose son, Mark, 22, died in the fire, said she was disappointed because the victims’ families pleas have repeatedly fallen on "deaf ears."
"It wouldn’t have bothered me to go to another hearing and plead my case again," she said.
Derderian pleaded no contest to 100 counts of involuntary manslaughter in September 2006 for installing flammable foam on the club’s walls and ceiling as soundproofing. The foam was set on fire by the pyrotechnics then quickly spread the flames through the building.
More than 200 people also were injured in the Feb. 20, 2003, blaze. Eight of those killed lived or worked in Connecticut.
Since being sent to prison in September, Michael Derderian has been disciplined several times for breaking the rules at his work release job and in prison. He lost his work-release job and was transferred from the prison’s minimum-security facility to medium security.
Derderian’s brother, Jeffrey, who also pleaded no contest to 100 counts of involuntary manslaughter, was spared jail time under a plea deal and ordered to do 500 hours of community service.
The only other man jailed for the fire, former Great White tour manager Daniel Biechele, is scheduled to be released on parole in March. Biechele pleaded guilty to lighting the pyrotechnics without a required permit and also is serving a four-year sentence.
Family members of the victims have long directed blame at the Derderians even as they have expressed leniency and forgiveness for Biechele. Prosecutors portrayed the club as a hazardous nightspot operated without concern for safety, where foam lined the walls and ceilings, several rock bands used pyrotechnics during their shows and the owners ignored limits in crowd capacity.
The Derderians have said they never knowingly put their patrons at risk and that Biechele never had permission to use the pyrotechnics. The brothers, along with their wives and Jody King, a brother of one fire victim, have since started an education fund for the more than 75 children who lost a parent in the fire.
King, a childhood friend of Derderian who spoke on his behalf in front of the parole board last week, said he had been hopeful Derderian would be out of prison by the summer, on a similar time frame as Biechele.
"There were so many other people to blame in this," King said. "There are so many people who are angry. Michael’s the only one they can be angry with right now."
King said he spoke Wednesday with Jeffrey Derderian, who was very disappointed by the board’s decision.
"Jeffrey really needs his brother home," he said.