OAKLAND (KRON) — For Derick Almena and Max Harris the road to justice began six months after the Ghost Ship Fire.
“Defendants Almena and Harris knowingly created a firetrap,” said Alameda County Prosecutor Nancy O’Malley.
Their arrests, Almena in Lake County, Harris in Los Angeles, were hailed by former Ghost Ship tenant Shelley Mack.
After a year in the Santa Rita County Jail, the two men were ready to accept a deal.
“Finally Mr. Almena and Mr. Harris are taking responsibility for their actions in the deaths of 36 individuals,” a prosecutor said at the time.
The two men agreed to plead no contest in exchange for reduced sentences.
“My client has fulfilled all of his duties and obligations, so we will anticipate he will be out in three and a half years,” said Almena’s attorney, Tony Serra.
The the expected sentence was not long enough, according to some of those who lost loved ones in the fire.
“To hear him plead guilty, basically, that was what we wanted to hear. The sentencing part of it? That’s questionable. We just wanted some justice. Full justice,” said David Gregory, the father of Michela Gregory, who was killed in the fire.
But the attorney for the families of twelve other victims said she was glad they would be spared the agony of a trial
“It is very satisfying to have them held to account,” said attorney Mary Alexander.
The sentencing hearing was one month later and the old judge replaced with a new judge.
Alameda County Superior Court Judge James Cramer listened as families described their pain.
He listened as Almena described his pain, at one point offering to have his body tattooed with flames and the faces of the victims.
Then came the stunning announcement.
“I almost fell off my chair,” Serra said.
The judge rejected the plea deal for both men, saying Almena’s apology sounded insincere.
His lawyer promising a courtroom fight.
“If they don’t want it, to heck with them. We will go to trial,” Serra said.
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