UPDATE (3/9): Derick Almena, operator and primary leaseholder of the “Ghost Ship” warehouse in Oakland, California was sentenced to 12 years in prison after pleading guilty to 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter related to a December 2016 fire. As NPR reports, however, due to good behavior and time served, Almena is only expected to serve about 18 months on house arrest with an ankle monitor (he’s been on house arrest since last year after being released from jail due to Covid-19 concerns).
At the sentencing hearing, Almena’s lawyer read a statement from him that said, “My shame cannot stand as any defense against what I am responsible for. It is my fault, my terrible accumulation of error, that shaped and built a place so dangerous.”
Many family members of those who died in the Ghost Ship fire, however, urged the judge overseeing the case to reject the plea deal, which was aimed at avoiding a second trial after the first ended in a mistrial and acquittal in 2019. The family of one victim, Sarah Yoda, called the sentence a “slap on the wrist” that was “vastly inappropriate for the crimes Derick Almena committed.”
Derick Almena, the operator of the “Ghost Ship” warehouse in Oakland where 36 people were killed in a fire, pleaded guilty to 36 charges of involuntary manslaughter Friday to avoid a second criminal trial related to the December 2016 blaze.
The plea bargain carries a sentence of nine to 12 years in prison, CNN reports. However, the San Francisco Chronicle writes that when Almena is sentenced on March 8th, it’s expected he will spend just over two years in prison — factoring in time served and good behavior — if he’s remanded to prison at all; Almena could also serve out the rest of his sentence on house arrest due to the coronavirus pandemic.
In July 2018, Almena and co-defendant Max Harris reached a plea deal where both men would have pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter charges, with Almena and Harris set to spend nine and six years in prison, respectively. However, in a surprise twist, a different judge struck down the plea deal at sentencing a month later, arguing that Almena had not shown enough remorse in the aftermath of the tragedy, forcing the charges to trial.
Almena and Harris went to trial on involuntarily manslaughter charges trial in mid-2019, with Harris acquitted on all 36 charges and a mistrial declared against Almena. Immediately following the September 2019 verdict, prosecutors announced Almena would face a new trial the following month.
However, the coronavirus pandemic delayed Almena’s second manslaughter trial, which was ultimately scheduled to begin in February 2021. Instead, Almena will face sentencing on March 8th.
Over 70 people were in attendance for a Golden Donna concert at the Ghost Ship on December 2nd, 2016; the 36 victims, whose ages ranged from 17 to 61, died from smoke inhalation when a fire broke out in the venue and attendees were unable to find a way out of the labyrinth-like warehouse.
While he wasn’t in attendance at the time of the fire, Almena converted the commercial warehouse into a DIY venue and living space without permits. Harris served as the Ghost Ship’s “creative director” who collected rent and was the doorman on the night of the fire.