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​Mistrial declared in Oakland Ghost Ship case

Jury hung in case of master tenant's 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter

  • Cameron Holbrook
  • 5 September 2019
​Mistrial declared in Oakland Ghost Ship case

Almost three years after the tragic fire took the lives of 36 people at Oakland's Ghost Ship during a 100% Silk event, the months-long proceedings brought against the building's master tenant, Derick Almena, have ended in a mistrial.

The announcement came after a judge replaced three of the jurors and ordered the jury to reopen their deliberations for reasons that still remain unknown. Following their discussions, a mistrial was declared after it was found that the jury could not reach a verdict.

Almena, 49, faced 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter and could have face up to 39 years in prison if found guilty.

His co-defendant, 29-year-old Max Harris who helped organize events in Almena's building, was found not guilty of all charges.

Both defendants, who were arrested back in June of 2017, pleaded no contest to 36 counts of manslaughter and agreed to six and nine years in prison, respectively. Their plea deal was rejected by Judge James Crame due to "the lack of remorse" shown by Almena during the initial proceedings. The victims’ families also objected to the sentences because they said it was too lenient.

As the lease holder for the building, Almena lived inside Ghost Ship and, according to court documents, he encouraged other people living their to us “non-conventional building materials,” like wooden sculptures and old furniture to create their living spaces.

Court documents written by Alameda County DA investigator Cristina Harbison outline why Almena was arrested: “Almena substantially increased the risk to those living, working or visiting the building by storing enormous amounts of flammable material inside the warehouse. Residents reported that if they put anything in their individual living spaces that did not conform to Almena’s idea as to how the warehouse should look, he would order it to be removed.”

The attorneys for both men previously said that a central argument for their defense will be that a specific cause of the fire has never been concluded. Almena’s attorney said he will argue that an arsonist could have started the fire. Harris’ attorney also stated that others should share blame for the tragedy, including the city of Oakland, its fire department and the warehouse’s landlord.

The Ghost Ship blaze in Oakland was one of the deadliest nightclub fires in US history and sent shockwaves through the global dance music community.

In the days following the Ghost Ship fire a collective of venue owners, artists, architects and other members of the DIY community developed a document outlining ways event organizers can modify venues to create safe spaces and avoid incidents like the recent tragedy. The public can view the document here.

Cameron is Mixmag's Jr. Editor. Follow him on Twitter

[via: The Guardian]

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