Jury trial set for Ghost Ship fire defendants
Derick Almena and Max Harris pleaded not guilty to the 36 felony counts; the jury trial is set for July 16
By Angela Ruggiero
The Contra Costa Times
OAKLAND, Calif. — Two former residents of the Oakland Ghost Ship warehouse will head to a jury trial in July on charges of involuntary manslaughter, a judge said Tuesday.
Derick Almena, master tenant of the artist collective, and Max Harris, whom prosecutors consider the collective’s No. 2, pleaded not guilty Tuesday to the 36 felony counts in Alameda County Superior Court. It was their second such plea after prosecutors filed a new charging sheet in the case following a preliminary hearing last year.
Attorneys for Almena, 47, and Harris, 28, are hoping to get the pair released at a hearing in March, where they will argue that the $750,000 apiece bail should be lowered to zero. And at a hearing in April, the attorneys plan to file a motion to have the charges dismissed.
They said city and county officials, as well as landlord Chor Ng, are to blame for the conditions inside Ghost Ship that led to the deadly blaze.
“They looked the other way. They believed in what he was doing,” attorney Tony Serra said of Almena. “It was a service, ultimately, to the community. There was education and music and yoga. ... This was a beautiful place.”
Judge James Cramer scheduled the jury trial for July 16.
Prosecutors say Harris and Almena created a firetrap inside the warehouse that was used for an electronic music show on Dec. 2, 2016, that drew dozens of partygoers. Thirty-six people died of smoke inhalation when a fire broke out in the building, which was not permitted as an event space or residence and had no sprinklers, alarms, fire escapes or marked exits.
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Fire investigators were not able to determine a cause of the inferno, but Assistant Fire Marshal Maria Sabatini said it was likely an electrical failure.