No plea deal reached in warehouse fire in Calif.


Associated Press

OAKLAND, Calif.

Lawyers negotiated for more than two hours in an Oakland courtroom Friday but were unable to reach a plea agreement for the two defendants accused in connection with a Northern California warehouse fire that killed three dozen partygoers at an unlicensed concert in 2016.

Derick Almena and prosecutors had tentatively agreed to an eight-year prison sentence to resolve 36 charges of involuntary manslaughter, defense lawyer Tony Serra said earlier in the day.

“We are 85 percent there,” Serra said earlier.

Almena, 48, rented the Oakland warehouse dubbed the “Ghost Ship” and illegally converted it into a residence and entertainment venue. Prosecutors charged Almena with turning the cluttered building into a “death trap” with few exits, rickety stairs and dark and dangerous passageways.

Almena, his wife and three children lived in the warehouse but were staying in an Oakland hotel the night of the fire, which broke out during an electronic music performance in December 2016.

But talks between attorneys for Almena, the district attorney, and attorneys for co-defendant Max Harris, who helped manage the warehouse and also is charged with 36 counts of manslaughter, broke down Friday.

The attorneys left the court without comment, and a judge ended the day by setting trial for July 16 and ordering all parties to return for a hearing Tuesday.

If an agreement is reached, Almena is expected to be released from prison in three years with time off for good behavior.

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