Judge rejects joint plea deal for Ghost Ship warehouse owners

Judge rejects joint plea deal for Ghost Ship warehouse owners

California judge James Cramer rejected the plea deals of the two men charged with 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter following the state’s “Ghost Ship” warehouse fire that claimed the lives of 36 in 2016 in what would become California’s “deadliest building fire since the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.”

While the cause of the fire was undetermined at the time of the blaze and remains unknown, police officials later discovered a myriad of electrical problems in the space that likely contributed to the fire. The 9,880 square foot space was outfitted with an amateur and outdated electrical system known for its consistent power failure. Power strips provided much of the warehouse’s electricity, increasing strain on an already inadequate electrical system.

To make matters worse, Ghost Ship was already in a deteriorated physical state, preventing attendees’ escape — those trapped on the second floor of the warehouse were unable to venture to the ground floor of the structure when the fire started, the stairs unsafe due to their makeup, a haphazard pairing of planks and wooden pallets.

The master tenant of the Ghost Ship warehouse, Derick Almena, and the building’s creative director, Max Harris, expected to receive a nine and six year sentencing under the plea bargain, respectively. The plea deal would have enabled Almena and Harris to gain an early release from prison after serving only half of their sentences in accordance with California’s common practice of shortening sentences when inmates maintain upstanding disciplinary records.

The bereft relatives of those killed during the warehouse fire testified about their individual losses on August 9 in a collective effort to petition Judge Cramer to deny Almena and Harris’ “lenient” plea deals. Cramer’s August 10 rejection of the joint plea deal presented an unexpected obstacle for Almena and Harris, given Cramer’s prior approval of the proposed agreement in July.

Almena and Harris have both served one-year in prison since their no contest acceptance of the mutual plea deal. The case will now move to a jury trial unless a new deal is made between Cramer, Almena, and Harris. If Almena and Harris are convicted at trial, the men could face up to 39 years in prison.

H/T: NBC News