Derick Almena, one of two defendants in the recently concluded Ghost Ship criminal trial, will be retried on 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter after a jury deadlocked on his verdict last month, officials said Friday.
Almena, 49, has remained behind bars as prosecutors decided whether to retry him, while co-defendant Max Harris, 29, walked out of jail in Dublin the night of the verdict Sept. 5. Both men faced up to 39 years in prison if convicted of all charges stemming from the deadly inferno Dec. 2, 2016, at an electronic music party in Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood.
Five months after the trial began, jurors found Harris not guilty, while only 10 of the 12 jurors could agree Almena was guilty of negligence in turning the warehouse into a deadly firetrap.
Judge Trina Thompson on Friday denied the defense’s motion to reduce Almena’s $750,000 bail and scheduled a trial to begin on March 30, 2020.
“It seems that there is going to be no negotiation,” said Tony Serra, Almena’s attorney. “There is going to be a trial.”
Serra told reporters Friday that a new trial was a rare moment of agreement between the defense and prosecution. Neither side, he said, was willing to discuss a plea deal.
Prosecutors declined to comment.
Friday marked the first Ghost Ship hearing since the jury announced its deadlock of Almena and acquittal of Harris.
Four of the original jurors also appeared in the courtroom for a hearing on contempt of court charges for two of them. Both were found in contempt of court and one was ordered to pay $500, according to a court official. The fine was stayed, however, so she does not have to pay until further notice from the judge.
On the 10th day of deliberations in August, Thompson removed three jurors amid allegations of juror misconduct before restarting deliberations with alternates. Jurors later told The Chronicle one person was dismissed for soliciting information on the case outside the scope of the trial, and another was dismissed for attempting to sway the vote of a third juror.
The third juror was also removed from the panel but does not face contempt proceedings.
Of the two jurors not charged with contempt who appeared in court Friday, one was the original foreperson — she does not face contempt proceedings — and another was one of two jurors who voted to acquit Almena.
Defense attorney Brian Getz made an emotional plea for Thompson to reduce Almena’s bail to $50,000. Getz argued that his client did not pose a flight risk, and that Almena’s face “is as well known as any defendant in this county.”
Prosecutor Casey Bates argued that the bail should remain at $750,000, and said no circumstances had changed that would warrant a reduction. Thompson agreed and noted that Almena had shown a history of failing to abide by authorities’ rules.
In a rare public appearance, Almena’s wife, Micah Allison, spoke to reporters after Friday’s hearing. She said the remorse she and her husband feel about the tragedy is “immeasurable.”
“I’m obviously really sad about this denial of bail,” Allison said. “All Derick wants to do is to be with his kids.”
One female juror was the primary holdout responsible for a hung jury that left the fate of Almena in limbo, according to two jurors who spoke to The Chronicle last month.
Though the jury ultimately split with 10 in favor of guilt and two for acquittal, the jurors said one of the two women had seemed willing to hear no other arguments during deliberations.
The two who voted not guilty placed more responsibility on the warehouse’s landlords, Chor Ng and her children, than on Almena, who was the master tenant of the building when it erupted in flames, killing 36 people.
Nemo Baker, a juror who was on both the first and second panel, said the second woman who voted not guilty took issue with the criminal negligence legal standard needed to find Almena guilty of involuntary manslaughter. It states that an ordinarily careful person would have known about the bodily risks.
“I think the biggest thing was, she wouldn’t have known that it was as risky” Baker said.
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