OAKLAND, California. – Two men who pleaded no contest to 36 charges of involuntary manslaughter will be the face of the families of those who died in a fire in an illegally converted Northern California warehouse if they are convicted for the crimes.
A two-day sentencing hearing for Derick Almena and Max Harris is scheduled to start Thursday in Oakland. Family members of the victims are expected to testify about their losses Thursday before a judge sentences the men on Friday.
Prosecutors say Almena, 48, rented the warehouse, he called the Ghost Ship and illegally converted into a residence and entertainment venue. Almena hired Harris, 28, to assist in collecting rent and scheduling concerts.
A fast-moving fire consumed the building in the night of Dec. 2, 2016, during an electronic music performance.
Prior to the acceptance of their requests in the last month, the judge read the name of the victim for an emotional and seat, allowing the tears of loved ones in the Oakland the courtroom.
Prosecutors say the two suspects turned out to the warehouse in a “drop dead” by cluttering with highly flammable trinkets, and the block of the number of turns in the dimly-lit building.
The two men agreed to a plea bargain with the Alameda County district attorney’s office in the last month brokered by the judge chairing the hearing. Almena agreed to a prison term of nine years and Harris are agreed for a period of six years.
The men can have life in prison if convicted in a trial. Now, with good behavior, they are only to serve half of their sentences after a stay of a year in prison.
David Gregory, whose 20-year-old daughter, Michela Gregory, was one of the victims, said outside the court last month that he was dissatisfied with the outcome of the criminal case.
“That is 36 lives, you know,” he said. “We wanted a fair justice, and we don’t get.”
Researchers from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, said they were not able to determine the cause of the fire.
Gregory and other family members of the victims allege in lawsuits that the Oakland Fire department failed to check the warehouse every year is necessary. The lawsuit says inspectors would have discovered the illegal conversions.
Alex Katz, a spokesman for the Oakland city attorney, declined to comment, citing ongoing litigation.
Warehouse owner Chor Ng, who has never been charged, did not return a message Wednesday.
The lawsuits claim Pacific Gas & Electric Co. not properly check, inspect and repair of electrical equipment which the power to the warehouse.
PG&E said in a statement that he has cooperated with the investigation and that a review of the records found no electrical problems in the warehouse during the 10 years before the fire.