The main tenant of an Oakland warehouse where a fire killed 36 people in 2016 was sentenced to 12 years in prison, though he is unlikely to spend any more time in jail.
Already under house arrest after being released from jail last year due to coronavirus concerns, Derick Almena was ordered on Monday to serve the remainder of his term under electronic monitoring, followed by three years of probation.
“I know that no family member will find this acceptable in any way, and I accept that responsibility,” said Alameda County Superior Court Judge Trina Thompson, concluding an emotionally charged case that was first derailed by a jury. hung and then by the pandemic. .
Acknowledging her pain, she added: “I wish I could in the stroke of a pen erase her deep loss and sadness.”
Many of the family members had urged the judge to reject a plea agreement that Almena had reached with prosecutors to avoid a second trial.
Almena, 50, pleaded guilty in January to 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter in exchange for a 12-year sentence.
Because he received credit for the time he already spent behind bars while awaiting trial and for his good behavior, he will spend the next year and a half at home with an ankle monitor.
“This lenient and slapping sentence is grossly inappropriate for the crimes committed by Derick Almena,” the family of the fire victim, Sarah Hoda, said in a statement read to the court via teleconference. “Maintaining the district attorney’s irresponsible plea recommendation would harm 36 victims and their families.”
Emilie Grandchamps, the mother of victim Alex Ghassan, said that Almena, along with warehouse owners and city agencies that are supposed to enforce regulations, must be held accountable.
“I often ask, why did my son receive a death sentence for being in the wrong place and time and those responsible for his death and 35 others have a second chance at life? I want my son’s death not to be in vain, ”he said.
The judge and prosecutors said they took into consideration the difficulties of trying the case again, given the challenges of selecting jurors and calling witnesses who could face travel during a pandemic, and because Almena admitted her guilt. Almena apologized to the victims and said he was “sick with shame.”
“My shame cannot serve as a defense against what I am responsible for. It is my fault, my terrible accumulation of mistakes, that shaped and built such a dangerous place, ”he said in a statement read in court through his attorney, Tony Serra.
Prosecutors said Almena was criminally negligent when he illegally converted the industrial warehouse in Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood into a residence and event space for artists, dubbed the “Ghost Ship,” by filling the building with flammable materials and extension cords. It had no smoke detectors or sprinklers.
The hell of December 2, 2016 broke out in the warehouse during an electronic music event, trapping the victims on the illegally constructed second floor. Prosecutors said the victims received no warning and had little chance of escaping down a narrow, rickety staircase.
Family and friends of the victims filled Thompson’s courtroom for months in 2019, becoming familiar faces to the judge, only to see a jury divided on whether to convict Almena, who rented the building. At the same trial, the jury also found co-defendant Max Harris, who was the “creative director” and rental collector for Ghost Ship, not guilty.
Last year, the Oakland city council agreed to pay just over $ 33 million to settle civil lawsuits filed on behalf of the victims. The settlement included $ 23.5 million for the families of 32 victims and $ 9.2 million for a survivor who suffers “serious injuries for life.”
Almena was also ordered to pay about $ 181,000 in restitution for funeral expenses and counseling. A restitution hearing will be held on April 30.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism