OAKLAND (CBS SF) — Emotions ran high in an Alameda County courtroom Friday as a judge refused to release Ghost Ship Warehouse fire defendant Derek Almena but did agree to reduce his bail to $750,000.
Almena’s wife and friends were in the jammed-packed courtroom along with family members of some of the 36 victims who died while attending a music event at the Ghost Ship warehouse when the building burst into flames last December.
“We are very pleased they (the defendants) will not be going home today,” said Mary Alexander, an attorney who represents the families of several victims, outside the courtroom. “These young people who lost their lives will never be coming home.”
Almena, the head of the Ghost Ship artist cooperative and the master tenant, and warehouse creative director Max Harris have been charged with 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter.
Alameda County Superior Court Judge Kevin Murphy reduced Almena’s $1 million bail to $750,000 — the same amount that Murphy set last week for Harris.
Attorneys for Almena and Harris said the two men aren’t yet ready to enter pleas to the charges but will be prepared to do so at their next court appearance on Sept. 13.
The attorneys said a preliminary hearing, which will determine if there’s enough evidence against them to have them stand trial, also will be scheduled at
Jeffrey Krasnoff, one of three attorneys who represent Almena, said the 47-year-old should be released from custody or least have his bail reduced significantly because he has “a stable living situation to go back to” with his wife and their three children and he isn’t a flight risk or a threat to the community.
Krasnoff admitted that several years ago Alameda County child protective services officials took the children from Almena and his wife, Micah Allison, because they were concerned about the children’s safety.
But Krasnoff said Almena and his wife addressed all of the county officials’ concerns and their children were returned to their care.
Krasnoff said if Almena were released from custody he would be glad to comply with restrictions such as wearing a GPS monitor and not hosting any parties or musical events.
But prosecutor Autrey James objected.
“The reason we’re here is that he (Almena) didn’t follow restriction when he took over that building,” said James referring to the warehouse, which allegedly was in violation of fire safety codes and other regulations.
James also said he’s concerned about the safety of prosecution witnesses with whom Almena has clashed in the past, such as Nicholas Bouchard, who had been Almena’s partner in managing the warehouse.
In addition, James said Almena “has not always been truthful with the government,” referring to allegations that Almena misrepresented the conditions to Oakland officials who inspected the warehouse.
Murphy said he is setting Almena’s bail at a high amount because he “has some concerns about him returning to court because he faces “a potentially very severe sentence” of more than 30 years in state prison if he’s convicted.
After the hearing, Tony Serra, another attorney for Almena, said the $750,000 amount set by Murphy is “outrageous.”
Serra said Almena will still try to raise that amount even though he doesn’t have much money by seeking help from his friends and supporters.
TM and © Copyright 2017 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Bay City News Service contributed to this report.