Ghost Ship Fire Trial Ends in Mistrial, Acquittal - Rolling Stone
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Ghost Ship Fire Trial Ends in Mistrial and Acquittal

Max Harris acquitted in deadly blaze that killed 36 people, while Derick Almena faces a new trial next month

FILE - This combination of June 2017, file booking photos provided by the Alameda County Sheriff's Office shows Max Harris, left, and Derick Almena at Santa Rita Jail in Alameda County, Calif. Harris, one of two men blamed for a warehouse fire that killed 36 people in the San Francisco Bay Area two years ago, is scheduled to take the witness stand Monday, June 17, 2019, in Oakland. He faces involuntary manslaughter charges along with Almena, who is accused of illegally converting the so-called Ghost Ship warehouse into an artist live-work space where the fire broke out in December 2016. (Alameda County Sheriff's Office via AP, File)

The trial against the two men charged in connection to the deadly 2016 "Ghost Ship" fire in Oakland ended with an acquittal for Max Harris (l) and a mistrial for Derick Almena (r).


The trial against the two men charged with involuntary manslaughter in connection to the deadly 2016 “Ghost Ship” warehouse fire in Oakland, California ended Thursday with a mistrial for one of the defendants and a full acquittal for the other.

Derick Almena and Max Harris both faced 39 years if found guilty of the 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter; however, Harris was acquitted on all 36 counts, while a hung jury mistrial was declared for Almena. Almena will head back to trial on October 4th. The verdict followed a three-month trial and nearly a month of jury deliberations, during which three jurors were dismissed, the East Bay Times reported.

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.

In July 2018, Almena and 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 shocking 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, the East Bay Times reported.

A superior court judge declined to reinstate the plea deal in a November hearing, resulting in the criminal trial against the two men. Following the fire, Almena apologized to the victims’ family but stopped short of accepting blame in a bizarre interview on Today.

“I’m only here to say one thing: I’m incredibly sorry and that everything that I did was to make this a stronger and more beautiful community and to bring people together,” Almena said of the Ghost Ship, adding of whether he committed criminal negligence, “I’m not going to answer these questions on this level. I’d rather get on the floor and be trampled by the parents [of the victims]. I’d rather let them tear at my flesh than answer these ridiculous questions.”


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