Aug. 12 (UPI) — A judge has rejected two men’s no-contest plea deals on involuntary manslaughter charges in the 2016 Ghost Ship warehouse fire in Oakland, Calif., that killed 36 people.
Alameda County Superior Court Judge James Cramer, capping two days of emotional testimony of families of the individuals who died during a dance concert at the warehouse on Dec. 2, 2016, tossed out plea deals of two defendants Friday, the East Bay Times reported.
Cramer rejected the no-contest plea deal of Derick Almena, 48, one of two co-founders of the facility, arrested in June 2017 for allegedly allowing dangerous conditions in the building that led to the fire, saying he did not show remorse. Since Max Harris, 28, the second co-founder and accused of the same thing, had his no-contest plea wrapped up in the same package, his plea was rejected too.
“I am expressly rejecting the plea bargain as to Mr. Almena,” Cramer said after listening to statements from families of the victims and defendants over a two-day hearing that was expected to end with the sentencing of Almena and Harris, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. “I do not know that it will do any of these victims any good.”
Some families of victims applauded the decision in the courtroom and shouted, “Yes!,” while some other victims’ families gasped and cried, and attorneys seemed surprised.
Under the plea deals, Almena, the Ghost Ship’s master tenant, was to receive a nine-year prison sentence. Harris, the artist collective’s executive director, was to receive a six-year sentence. With credit for time served and good behavior, Almena could have been released in less than four years and Harris in less than two years, sparking outrage from victims’ families that prompted another look.
The plea deal was made under a different judge, Morris Jacobson, and finalized last month. Unless another plea deal is accepted, the case could now go to trial.
If Almena and Harris are convicted, they could face up to 39 years in state prison.
Defense attorney Tony Serra for Almena told the Chronicle outside court his client has been “villainized” and will not get a fair trial.