OAKLAND (CBS SF) — The lawyer for Ghost Ship warehouse master tenant Derick Almena said for the first time Monday that he would consider a plea bargain in Almena’s case for his alleged role in a fire at the Oakland warehouse in December 2016 that killed 36 people.
Speaking to reporters after a lengthy discussion in the chambers of Alameda County Superior Court Judge Morris Jacobson, Almena’s lawyer Tony Serra said that even though he believes that Almena is innocent of the 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter he faces, he and Almena would consider a plea agreement if it would “eliminate the pain and suffering and anguish of the families of the deceased.”
Serra said Almena “feels for them in a compassionate way” and eliminating their pain would be “the higher calling and the greater ethic applicable to this case.”
The victims in the case died in a fire during a music party at the warehouse at 1309 31st Ave. in Oakland’s Fruitvale district on Dec. 2, 2016.
Almena, 48, and co-defendant Max Harris, 28, the Ghost Ship’s creative director, could face up to 39 years in state prison if they’re convicted of the charges they face. They both remain in custody in lieu of $750,000 bail.
Their trial is scheduled to begin on July 16 and the parties in the case estimate that it could last at least five or six months.
Jacobson first tried to broker a plea bargain in the case on June 14, when he denied a motion by Harris’ lawyer Curtis Briggs to delay the trial so that experts he recently hired could have more time to study the possible cause of the fire.
Serra said Monday that during the first round of talks on June 14 the prosecution and the defense were “far apart” but he said “this time we were closer.”
Jacobson scheduled additional plea bargain talks for Friday afternoon.
Serra said, “The judge is very desirous to resolve this case because a trial would be traumatic and dramatic for the victims’ families.”
Serra said Almena would consider a plea bargain that would only call for him to serve two years in custody, as he’s already been in custody for more than a year and has accumulated another year’s worth of jail credits.
However, Serra said the prosecution’s latest offer calls for Almena to spend more than two years in custody. He said he couldn’t be more specific because the plea negotiations are confidential.
Briggs said any additional jail time for Harris would be “unacceptable.”
Briggs said he would only consider a deal that gives Harris credit for the time he’s already served and alleged that Harris “should never have been incarcerated at all.”
Briggs said if the case goes to trial, “It will be the toughest case for a prosecution to prove in history.”
Briggs said he believes Harris and Almena aren’t responsible for the fire and he believes it was caused by “serious gross conduct and malfeasance by the city of Oakland” in failing to adequately inspect the Ghost Ship warehouse and other warehouses.
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