UPDATED 7:46 AM PT — Wed. July 4, 2018
Over a year after a devastating fire in an Oakland warehouse killed nearly 40 people, the defendants in the case have finally struck a plea deal.
On Tuesday, the Ghost Ship Warehouse master tenant Derick Almena and creative director Max Harris both pleaded no contest to 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter.
The plea deal means both men will avoid trial, where they could be found guilty of each charge and receive life in prison.
Both Almena and Harris’s attorneys claim their clients are remorseful, and that the situation is bittersweet.
“Today’s a bittersweet day that Max is able to move forward, but we also recognize that the families are only beginning their process towards healing and we also understand that they may never get there,” said Curtis Briggs, attorney for Harris.
The two-story warehouse called Ghost Ship was deemed “not permitted for habitation” by the city, but was illegally converted into residences for artists and a venue for concerts.
During a show on December 2, 2016 a fire broke out that ended up trapping and killing 36 victims.
City officials claimed the building was a “death trap,” with one of the exits blocked, flammable equipment everywhere and wood on both the floor and walls.
“They had a spiral that only one person could walk at a time down it, and so what happened was when the fire was created it got so smoky and so bad that you couldn’t see how to get down there,” explained Deputy Fire Chief Mark Hoffmann of the Oakland Fire Department.
Due to the extensive fire damage to the building, the cause of the fire remains unknown.
According to the plea agreement, Alemena will serve nine years in jail and three years on supervised release.
Harris will serve six years in custody, and four on supervised release.
The sentencing hearing is expected to be unusually long due to the number of victim’s family members that want to give statements.