Judge throws out plea deal for Ghost Ship defendants at sentencing hearing

Byby Carlos Saucedo KGO logo
Saturday, August 11, 2018
Ghost Ship fire case going to trial after judge rejects plea deal
The case against two defendants in the deadly Ghost Ship warehouse fire in Oakland is going to trial after a judge rejected a plea deal Friday.

OAKLAND, Calif. -- What was supposed to be a sentencing for Ghost Ship defendants Derick Almena and Max Harris just never materialized. In a surprising twist, Alameda County Judge James Cramer threw out the plea deal.

Families were happy with the judge's decision to reject the plea deal after taking their comments and the defendants' into consideration.

Alameda County Judge James Cramer heard from Almena and Harris as they expressed sorrow over what happened on December 2, 2016 -- speaking face to face with victims' families. Thirty-six lives were lost in the massive blaze.

Families thought Harris expressed a lot of remorse in his comments but didn't think Almena accepted full responsibility for his role in the events that led to the inferno.

"Definitely Almena is not remorseful," said Ivania Chavarria, a victim's mom.

And the judge agreed. Cramer was OK with the plea agreement for Harris, but not for Almena. Since this was a package deal, he had to accept it for both or neither.

Almena's defense attorney, Tony Serra, doesn't think his client will receive a fair trial given the amount of media attention this case has received.

PHOTOS: A look inside the Oakland Ghost Ship collective warehouse

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This photo of the Ghost Ship art collective warehouse in Oakland, Calif. was posted on its website.
Photo by www.OaklandGhostShip.com

"You see the victims' families are very adamant, and I empathize with their perspective, even though I think it's a little bit irrational but they want 36 years," Serra said, referring to a year in jail for each of the victims killed.

What happens next is still unclear. They can go to trial or resubmit a new plea deal.

Legal counsel is expected to meet with the judge on Aug. 17 to decide how to move forward.

RELATED: Remembering the Oakland Ghost Ship Fire victims

Take a moment to remember the creative souls we lost in the Ghost Ship Fire.