Judge rejects plea deals in deadly Oakland warehouse fire - WFMJ.com News weather sports for Youngstown-Warren Ohio

Judge rejects plea deals in deadly Oakland warehouse fire

Posted: Updated:
(Alameda County Sheriff's Office via AP, File). FILE- This combination of file June 2017 booking photos released by the Alameda County Sheriff's Office shows Max Harris, left, and Derick Almena, at Santa Rita Jail in Alameda County, Calif. The two men,... (Alameda County Sheriff's Office via AP, File). FILE- This combination of file June 2017 booking photos released by the Alameda County Sheriff's Office shows Max Harris, left, and Derick Almena, at Santa Rita Jail in Alameda County, Calif. The two men,...
(KGO-TV via AP, File). FILE - This Dec. 3, 2016, file image from video provided by KGO-TV shows the Ghost Ship Warehouse after a fire swept through the building in Oakland, Calif. Two men who pleaded no contest to 36 charges of involuntary manslaughter... (KGO-TV via AP, File). FILE - This Dec. 3, 2016, file image from video provided by KGO-TV shows the Ghost Ship Warehouse after a fire swept through the building in Oakland, Calif. Two men who pleaded no contest to 36 charges of involuntary manslaughter...
(Alameda County Sheriff's Office via AP, File). FILE - This Monday, June 5, 2017, file photo released by the Alameda County Sheriff's Office shows Derick Almena at Santa Rita Jail in Alameda County, Calif. Two men who pleaded no contest to 36 charges o... (Alameda County Sheriff's Office via AP, File). FILE - This Monday, June 5, 2017, file photo released by the Alameda County Sheriff's Office shows Derick Almena at Santa Rita Jail in Alameda County, Calif. Two men who pleaded no contest to 36 charges o...
(Alameda County Sheriff's Office via AP, File). FILE - This June 8, 2017, file photo released by the Alameda County Sheriff's Office shows Max Harris at the Santa Rita Jail in Dublin, Calif. Two men who pleaded no contest to 36 charges of involuntary m... (Alameda County Sheriff's Office via AP, File). FILE - This June 8, 2017, file photo released by the Alameda County Sheriff's Office shows Max Harris at the Santa Rita Jail in Dublin, Calif. Two men who pleaded no contest to 36 charges of involuntary m...
(AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File). FILE - In this Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, file photo, a member of the Alameda County Sheriff's Department, left, carries away a pallet outside the site of a warehouse fire in Oakland, Calif. Two men who pleaded no contest t... (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File). FILE - In this Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, file photo, a member of the Alameda County Sheriff's Department, left, carries away a pallet outside the site of a warehouse fire in Oakland, Calif. Two men who pleaded no contest t...
  • NationalMore>>

  • Multi-gene test may find risk for heart disease and more

    Multi-gene test may find risk for heart disease and more

    Friday, August 17 2018 5:07 AM EDT2018-08-17 09:07:29 GMT
    New way to track millions of genetic variations promises better forecasting of people's risk for heart attacks, four other disorders.More >>
    New way to track millions of genetic variations promises better forecasting of people's risk for heart attacks, four other disorders.More >>
  • Study: Smokers better off quitting, even with weight gain

    Study: Smokers better off quitting, even with weight gain

    Friday, August 17 2018 5:07 AM EDT2018-08-17 09:07:18 GMT
    (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File). FILE - In this June 22, 2012 file photo, a smoker extinguishes a cigarette in an ash tray in Sacramento, Calif. If you quit smoking and gain weight, it may seem like you’re trading one set of health problems for anoth...(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File). FILE - In this June 22, 2012 file photo, a smoker extinguishes a cigarette in an ash tray in Sacramento, Calif. If you quit smoking and gain weight, it may seem like you’re trading one set of health problems for anoth...
    US study finds you're better off in the long run if you quit smoking, even if you gain weight.More >>
    US study finds you're better off in the long run if you quit smoking, even if you gain weight.More >>
  • Slain Colorado mother painted rosy picture of married life

    Slain Colorado mother painted rosy picture of married life

    Friday, August 17 2018 5:07 AM EDT2018-08-17 09:07:14 GMT
    (The Colorado Bureau of Investigation via AP). This photo combo of images provided by The Colorado Bureau of Investigation shows, from left, Bella Watts, Celeste Watts and Shanann Watts.  The Frederick Police Department said Chris Watts was taken into ...(The Colorado Bureau of Investigation via AP). This photo combo of images provided by The Colorado Bureau of Investigation shows, from left, Bella Watts, Celeste Watts and Shanann Watts. The Frederick Police Department said Chris Watts was taken into ...
    A slain Colorado mother whose 2 young daughters were also killed painted a rosy picture of married life.More >>
    A slain Colorado mother whose 2 young daughters were also killed painted a rosy picture of married life.More >>

By PAUL ELIAS and MICHAEL BALSAMO
Associated Press

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) - In an unusual move, a California judge on Friday rejected the plea deals of two men who were charged with 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter after a 2016 California warehouse fire.

As he handed down his decision, Judge James Cramer said 48-year-old Derick Almena didn't accept "full responsibility and remorse" for the fatal blaze which occurred during an unlicensed concert at the dilapidated Oakland warehouse known as the "Ghost Ship."

The plea deal had called for Almena to be sentenced to nine years in prison and 28-year-old Max Harris to six years. The judge said he found Harris to be sincere but because the plea bargain was for both Harris and Almena, both pleas were rejected.

In court on Friday, Harris apologized to the families of the victims for his actions but told them he didn't expect forgiveness.

"I know nothing I can say will come close. I'm sorry," he said. "You're in my prayers and will be for the rest of my life."

The men could have been released from prison after serving just half their sentences, which is typical for California inmates who keep a good disciplinary record. Relatives of victims who died in the blaze had slammed the proposed sentences as too lenient.

Cyrus Hoda, the brother of victim Sarah Hoda, said Almena and Harris were "culture vultures" trying to become San Francisco Bay Area arts players by luring people to a dangerous place to live and party.

Authorities have alleged Almena rented the warehouse and illegally converted it into an entertainment venue and residences before the fire. Harris was accused of helping him collect rent and schedule concerts.

Prosecutors said the two men had turned the warehouse into a residential "death trap" by cluttering it with highly flammable knick-knacks, blocking the building's few exits and failing to make adequate safety precautions before inviting the public inside.

Almena's attorney, Tony Serra, said the judge's decision Friday came as a complete surprise as Cramer had approved the plea deal last month.

On Thursday, Paul Matiasic, an attorney reading a statement by a father of one of the victim's, asked the judge rhetorically if he had ever lost a child.

"Yes, I have," Cramer said with a sad smile. "Just so you know."

Many people in the courtroom gasped. The judge did not elaborate.

Almena's wife and three children also lived in the warehouse but were staying in a nearby hotel the night of the fire. His wife, Micah Allison, and one of their daughters sat quietly in court alongside the grieving families on Thursday and both addressed the judge Friday.

Almena told the victims' families that he should have died in the fire and that he was "guilty for believing we were safe."

"Forgive me if you can," he said. "If I could give you my children's lives I would."

Almena and Harris could face life in prison if convicted at a trial. They already have spent a year behind bars.

Serra said he believed the case had "weaknesses" and hopes prosecutors will consider another plea offer. A trial date has not been set.

Investigators from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said they were unable to determine a cause of the blaze.

Victims' relatives allege in lawsuits that the Oakland Fire Department failed to inspect the warehouse annually as required and that inspectors would have discovered the illegal conversions.

Alex Katz, a spokesman for the city attorney, declined to comment.

The lawsuits also claim Pacific Gas & Electric Co. failed to properly monitor, inspect and repair electrical equipment that provided power to the warehouse.

PG&E said in a statement that it cooperated with the investigation and that a review of its records found no electrical problems at the building in the 10 years before the fire.

Warehouse owner Chor Ng, who has not been charged, did not return a phone message seeking comment on Thursday.

___

Balsamo reported from Los Angeles.

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

  • More From wfmj.comHot ClicksMore>>

  • White House called toxins contamination 'PR nightmare'

    White House called toxins contamination 'PR nightmare'

    Friday, August 17 2018 5:07 AM EDT2018-08-17 09:07:20 GMT
    (AP Photo/Matt Rourke). In this Aug. 1, 2018 photo, Lauren Woehr hands her 16-month-old daughter Caroline, held by her husband Dan McDowell, a cup filled with bottled water at their home in Horsham, Pa. In Horsham and surrounding towns in eastern Penns...(AP Photo/Matt Rourke). In this Aug. 1, 2018 photo, Lauren Woehr hands her 16-month-old daughter Caroline, held by her husband Dan McDowell, a cup filled with bottled water at their home in Horsham, Pa. In Horsham and surrounding towns in eastern Penns...
    Toxics used in nonstick cookware, fast-food wrappers and much more are turning up in public water systems in dozens of states.More >>
    Toxics used in nonstick cookware, fast-food wrappers and much more are turning up in public water systems in dozens of states.More >>
  • Outdoor fun dwindles as smoky haze hangs over California

    Outdoor fun dwindles as smoky haze hangs over California

    Tuesday, August 14 2018 1:03 PM EDT2018-08-14 17:03:07 GMT
    (AP Photo/Lorin Eleni Gill). The city of Berkeley, Calif., sits in a dull, smoky haze Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2018. The air quality has hit unhealthy levels in cities miles away as California's largest wildfire ever burns to the north.(AP Photo/Lorin Eleni Gill). The city of Berkeley, Calif., sits in a dull, smoky haze Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2018. The air quality has hit unhealthy levels in cities miles away as California's largest wildfire ever burns to the north.
    No major wildfires are burning near Sacramento but for two weeks a dull haze and the faint smell of smoke from distant blazes has blanketed California's capital region.More >>
    No major wildfires are burning near Sacramento but for two weeks a dull haze and the faint smell of smoke from distant blazes has blanketed California's capital region.More >>
  • Twitter CEO defends decision not to ban Alex Jones, Infowars

    Twitter CEO defends decision not to ban Alex Jones, Infowars

    Tuesday, August 14 2018 11:01 AM EDT2018-08-14 15:01:19 GMT
    (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File). FILE - In this Tuesday, July 19, 2016 file photo, Alex Jones, center right, is escorted by police out of a crowd of protesters outside the Republican convention in Cleveland. Facebook says it has taken down four pages b...(AP Photo/John Minchillo, File). FILE - In this Tuesday, July 19, 2016 file photo, Alex Jones, center right, is escorted by police out of a crowd of protesters outside the Republican convention in Cleveland. Facebook says it has taken down four pages b...
    Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey defend company decision not to ban right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and his "Infowars" show.More >>
    Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey defend company decision not to ban right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and his "Infowars" show.More >>
  • More NewsMore>>

  • Consumer Reports finds heavy metals in baby food

    Consumer Reports finds heavy metals in baby food

    Friday, August 17 2018 4:58 AM EDT2018-08-17 08:58:12 GMT

    Consumer Reports is saying that it has found heavy metals in foods made for babies and toddlers, such as popular snacks, cereals, prepared entrées, and packaged fruits and vegetables. 

    More >>

    Consumer Reports is saying that it has found heavy metals in foods made for babies and toddlers, such as popular snacks, cereals, prepared entrées, and packaged fruits and vegetables. 

    More >>
  • Flames break out at Boardman home

    Flames break out at Boardman home

    Friday, August 17 2018 4:31 AM EDT2018-08-17 08:31:59 GMT

    Investigators are looking for the cause of a fire that broke out at a Boardman Township home late Thursday. T

    More >>

    Investigators are looking for the cause of a fire that broke out at a Boardman Township home late Thursday. T

    More >>
  • Austintown Police say missing 11-year-old boy has been found safe

    Austintown Police say missing 11-year-old boy has been found safe

    Thursday, August 16 2018 11:45 PM EDT2018-08-17 03:45:49 GMT

    Austintown Police are now searching for 11-year old Christian Shuler, who is currently missing from a residence in Austintown. According to police, Christian was last seen wearing black shorts with teal on the sides, a black shirt with gold on the front, and he was not wearing any shoes. Officers are asking if you see him or have seen him, that you please call the Austintown Police Department immediately at (330) 799-9721.

    More >>

    Austintown Police are now searching for 11-year old Christian Shuler, who is currently missing from a residence in Austintown. According to police, Christian was last seen wearing black shorts with teal on the sides, a black shirt with gold on the front, and he was not wearing any shoes. Officers are asking if you see him or have seen him, that you please call the Austintown Police Department immediately at (330) 799-9721.

    More >>
Powered by Frankly
All content © Copyright 2000 - 2018 WFMJ. All Rights Reserved. For more information on this site, please read our Privacy Policy and Terms