Judge sets second trial date for Derick Almena

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Judge sets second trial date for Derick Almena

PHOTO BY JIM HEAPHY/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

PHOTO BY JIM HEAPHY/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

PHOTO BY JIM HEAPHY/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

By Jeff Shuttleworth, BAY CITY NEWS SERVICE

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A judge on Friday scheduled a second trial to begin on March 30 for Ghost Ship master tenant Derick Almena on 36 involuntary manslaughter charges for a fire at the Oakland building in 2016 that killed 36 people.
The first trial for Almena, 49, and co-defendant Max Harris, the warehouse’s artistic director, ended Sept. 5 with jurors deadlocked 10-2 in favor of convicting Almena and acquitting Harris of all charges.
Harris was released from custody later that day but Almena remains in custody in lieu of $750,000 bail as he awaits his second trial.
Almena is charged in connection with the fire at a music party at the 10,000-square-foot warehouse in the 1300 block of 31st Avenue in Oakland’s Fruitvale district that killed 36 people the night of Dec. 2, 2016.
Almena is remaining in custody because Alameda County Superior Court Judge Trina Thompson denied a motion by his attorneys to release him on his own recognizance or at least reduce his bail to $50,000.
Defense attorney Brian Getz argued that Almena doesn’t pose a threat to the public safety and isn’t a flight risk because if he’s released he would live with his wife and three children at their home in Upper Lake in Lake County.
Getz said Almena wouldn’t flee California because if he were to do so ‘he’d never see his family again.”
Getz also said Almena doesn’t have enough money to go anywhere and would be recognized wherever he went because of all the publicity his case has received.
But Thompson said that even though Almena has only a minimal previous criminal record, “I can’t ignore the fact that Mr. Almena has had court orders or been placed on supervision of some kind in the past and didn’t always abide by the rules of the authorities.”
Thompson also said she’s taking into consideration that “36 lives were lost and this case has the most heightened circumstances of any homicide case.”
Almena’s bail was set at $1.08 million when he was arrested and charged in June 2017 but was reduced slightly to $750,000 on Aug. 4, 2017, and has remained at that level since then.
Almena’s second trial won’t start until next spring because his lead attorney Tony Serra is busy with several other trials before then.
Thompson set a pretrial hearing for Almena for Jan. 31 and told the attorneys in the case to be ready to file motions at that time.
After Almena left court on Friday, Thompson held a hearing for two female jurors who she dismissed on Aug. 19 during jury deliberations for improper communications and found both of them to be in contempt of court.
Thompson issued a $500 fine for one of the jurors but said she wouldn’t impose it and make her pay it.
Thompson told that juror, “There was no valid excuse” for contacting a relative who’s a firefighter to get information on firefighting procedures that are relevant to the issues in the Ghost Ship fire case.
Thompson told the other juror that she would not impose a fine or order her to serve any jail time.
Two other female jurors came to court on Friday to watch the proceedings in the case.