OAKLAND (CBS SF) – Nearly four months after they were charged, Ghost Ship warehouse master tenant Derick Almena and creative director Max Harris pleaded not guilty Wednesday to 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter for the fire that killed 36 people at the Oakland warehouse in December.
After Almena, 47, and Harris, 27, entered their pleas, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Yolanda Northridge scheduled their preliminary hearing to begin on Nov. 13. The hearing will determine if there’s enough evidence for them to stand trial.
Before the two men entered their pleas, Northridge denied a motion by Harris to have the charges against him dismissed on the grounds that they aren’t specific enough.
Samuel Geller, one of Harris’ attorneys, argued that the pleadings against Harris don’t spell out what he did wrong and Harris therefore “doesn’t know what he’s up against.”
But Northridge agreed with prosecutor David Lim, who wrote in response to Harris’ motion that the charges against Almena and Harris comply with rules of pleading that were enacted 90 years ago in 1927 and are “supported by ample case law since then.”
Lim said Harris’ argument that the charges should designate a time and place of the offenses “must be overruled” because the case against them was filed as a criminal complaint, not as a grand jury indictment that must be more specific.
After the hearing, Curtis Briggs, another attorney for Harris, said, “What happened today is an injustice.”
Two weeks ago, Northridge denied a similar motion that was filed by Almena’s attorney Tony Serra, who also argued that the charges should be thrown out because they’re not specific enough.
Almena and Harris, who remain in custody in lieu of $750,000 bail, are each charged for their roles in the deadly blaze at a crowded dance party at the warehouse at 1309 31st Ave. in Oakland’s Fruitvale district on Dec. 2 and could face 39 years in state prison if they’re convicted.
Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley said when she filed the charges against Almena and Harris on June 5 that their actions were “reckless” and created a high risk of death for the people who attended the dance party, for which Almena and Harris had failed to get permits from the city of Oakland.
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