Derick Almena, the main tenant of the Oakland, California dilapidated warehouse known as the Ghost Ship, which served as an art collective and where he’d rent out space to artists, pleaded guilty to 36 charges of involuntary manslaughter on Friday, KTVU reports.
The guilty plea means that Almena will avoid a second criminal trial related to the December 2016 fire that killed 36 in one of the deadliest club fires in American history. As part of the plea agreement, Almena will face between 9 and 12 years in jail. He already has served two years.
The previous criminal case against Almena resulted in a mistrial last October. Almena’s co-defendant Max Harris was acquitted of all charges. Both men faced 36 charges of involuntary manslaughter and a maximum of 39 years in prison. Both pleaded no contest in July 2018 in a deal that would have given Almena 9 years in prison and Harris 6 years in prison, but a judge rejected the agreement after victims’ families criticized the sentences as too lenient.
Last summer, the city of Oakland settled a civil suit with the victims’ families for nearly $33 million.
The fire happened during a dance party for the 100% Silk record label on Dec. 2, 2016 at a commercially permitted warehouse that Almena was accused of illegally converting into a ramshackle live-work space for artists. Electricity was reportedly wired into the building from an adjacent auto shop and a staircase was built out of wooden palettes. Prosecutors described the space as a “death trap” and alleged that Almena failed to provide smoke detectors, fire alarms, sprinklers, and other required safety equipment. The building’s landlord claimed they did not know anyone was living inside.
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