Wednesday, November 15, 2006
Delayed, insufficient justice
Joseph T. LePore and Sean Ryan agreed to the last-minute deal at the Essex County Courthouse in Newark on the day their long-awaited arson and felony murder trial was scheduled to begin.
After years of denying they lit the fire, LePore and Ryan read statements admitting they set fire to a paper banner in a dorm lounge around 4 a.m. on Jan. 19, 2000. That fire spread to a couch and eventually killed three freshmen and injured 58 other students.
According to LePore, he "did not intend to harm anyone. It was a prank that got out of hand.” Ryan read a similar statement.
Under the plea deal, LePore and Ryan, both 26, pleaded guilty to arson and tampering with a witness (which came about when the two attempted to get friends of theirs to lie to investigators). LePore also pleaded guilty to a disorderly persons offense. They will serve a maximum 5-year sentence at a state facility for youthful offenders. They will be eligible for parole after 16 months.
16-months in jail for the murder of 3 people (whose pictures are above) and the serious bodily injury of 58 others. That certainly is a deal. For the defendants.
We understand that the state's case was a tough one. It took prosecutors a long time to gather evidence and convince witnesses to talk. We understand that they would take a chance of a "not guilty" verdict if the case was brought to trial. But we also understand that, prank gone wrong or not, the fire these two men started ended up killing three 18-year old boys. Under the law, that is a homicide. To allow Ryan and LePore to get away with just 16-months in jail without having to admit in open court that they killed three people and injured 58 others is insufficient justice.
Although the families of Aaron Karol (of Green Brook), John Giunta (of Vineland) and Frank Caltabilota, Jr. (of West Long Branch) -- the 3 boys killed by Ryan and LePore's fire -- were disappointed with the terms of the plead deal, we hope that this helps them bring closure to the painful 7 years of not knowing what happened on that day and not knowing who did it. We know they will never be truly healed, but we hope that this ends up a positive step for them.
To the memory of Aaron, John and Frank.