Contrary To Reports, Jack Russell Has Not Asked For Immunity

By Long Paul, Program Director
Saturday, March 1, 2003 @ 8:33 PM

Russell, Band Still Cooperatin

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PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island (AP) -- The lead singer of the band whose pyrotechnics sparked a deadly nightclub fire has not formally requested immunity from prosecution in exchange for his testimony and hasn't testified before the grand jury, his lawyer said Saturday.

Jack Russell, the lead vocalist for the '80s heavy metal group Great White, reported Friday to the site in East Greenwich where a grand jury was impaneled, but he didn't testify, attorney Neil Philbin said.

Russell wouldn't comment late Friday as he prepared to board a plane at T.F. Green Airport in Warwick, saying only: "I can't talk about anything right now, man."

The singer had the same response when asked whether he'd be returning to Rhode Island.

Neither Philbin nor Ed McPherson, the band's Los Angeles attorney, would rule out the possibility of an immunity request at some point.

"Discussions have taken place between Russell's attorneys and the department of the attorney general," Philbin said Saturday. "Mr. Russell has been cooperative and he'll continue to be cooperative and helpful to the department in any way."

"I can't tell you what we're going to do in the future, but we're cooperating fully right now, and that's what everyone should be doing," McPherson said.

Great White's pyrotechnic display sparked the February 20 fire that ripped through the club in a matter of minutes, killing nearly 100 people.

Band members and their associates have said they received permission to use the fireworks from the club's owners, brothers Jeffrey and Michael Derderian. But the Derderians insist they never gave the band permission.

Eric Powers, the band's drummer, was also subpoenaed to appear before the grand jury. His lawyer, Peter DiBiase, would only say Powers had "discharged his obligation to the grand jury."

McPherson declined to comment when asked if any other band members had testified or received immunity deals from prosecutors.

"Jack and the rest of the band have done everything they've been required to do by the attorney general. They've been fully cooperative," he said.

With two sharply opposing versions of what went wrong the night of the fire, prosecutors will have a tough call to make when deciding if they will grant immunity deals, said Edward Roy Jr., former president of the Rhode Island Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

There are two types of immunity prosecutors could grant: transactional immunity, which is broad and requires a judge's approval; and letter immunity, which is limited and doesn't require the approval of a judge.

Under letter immunity, a defendant cannot be prosecuted based on his own statements, but can be prosecuted based on evidence that comes from another source or statements from other witnesses.

"With this kind of catastrophic loss, I don't think anyone is going to go in there without some kind of immunity," Roy said.

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