Two sentenced in Seton Hall fire case

Friday, January 26, 2007

Eyewitness News has learned two men who admit that seven years ago, they set the deadly dormitory fire at Seton Hall University have been sentenced to five years in a juvenile facility.

Joseph Lepore and Sean Ryan Both pleaded guilty to arson last year. Both will be eligible for parole in 16 months.

On the eve of their November murder trial, the two lifelong friends confessed:

  • They had set fire to a paper banner in a lounge of Boland Hall, and before they could stop it, the fire spread to a couch.
  • It was out of control, and choking smoke spread through Boland Hall, a six story freshman dorm.

    Both men apologized to the victims' families Friday as their sentencing hearing began.

    "There's nothing I can really say to take away your pain," LePore said. "I want you to know I am very, very sorry for your losses," Sean Ryan said. "I hope you can move on. I'm very, very sorry."

    One student who was horribly burned in the blaze rejected the apologies from the two.

    "I can't see myself ever forgiving these two kids for starting this fire," Alvaro Llanos wrote in a letter that was read in court. "They should have been man enough to bang on doors and save everyone's life. Instead, they ran away like the cowards they are."

    One father whose son died in the blaze said his family could've forgiven the two if they had taken responsibility quicker.

    "Eventually, your judgment day will come from the highest court," he said. "You will see a jury consisting of Frankie, Aaron and John. On that day, justice will be done," said Frank Calabilota Sr.

    In pleading guilty to arson, LePore and Ryan said they set a paper banner on fire in a third-floor lounge around back in 2000. The flames spread to a couch. The fire was largely confined to the lounge, but smoke spread throughout the six-story dorm.

    "Today, family members and burn victims, who anguished seven long years since this tragic fire, had their voices heard. Our thoughts and prayers will forever be with them," said Prosecutor Dow. "Nothing can ever make up the loss and suffering to these families caused by Joseph LePore and Sean Ryan. It is my hope that the defendants' public admission of guilt, coupled with their prison sentences will provide some comfort to the victims and their families."

    Eighteen-year-old freshmen Caltabilota Jr., John Giunta and Aaron Karol were overcome by smoke and died. Dozens of others were injured.

    If Lepore and Ryan had gone to trial, each could've faced 30 years in prison.

    In addition to arson, the two pleaded guilty to witness tampering for telling some friends to lie to authorities. As part of the plea deal, prosecutors dropped charges against LePore's parents, sister and friend that included hindering apprehension.

    Prosecutors agreed to recommend that LePore and Ryan serve their sentences in a facility for youthful convicts. In New Jersey, such offenders frequently are sent to one of three state-run youth correctional facilities, which are designed for inmates between the ages of 18 and 30.

    The fire led New Jersey to enact the nation's first law requiring sprinklers in dormitories at colleges and boarding schools.

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