Judge rejects plea agreement for two men accused of 36 counts of homicide

The judge said he found Max Harris (in the photo) as sincere, but since the agreement with the prosecutor was for both Harris and Almena, both were rejected.

To an unusual extent, a California judge on Friday rejected the guilty pleas of two men who were charged with 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter after a fire at the California warehouse in 2016.

While dictating his decision, Judge James Cramer said that Derick Almena, 48, did not accept "full responsibility and remorse" for the fatal fire that occurred during an unlicensed concert in the ramshackle Oakland warehouse known as the "Ghost Ship" . & # 39;

The plea agreement had required that Almena be sentenced to nine years in prison and Max Harris from 28 years to six years. The decision paves the way for a jury trial, where the two men could face up to 39 years in state prison if a new plea agreement is not reached.

The judge said he found Max Harris (in the photo) as sincere, but since the agreement with the prosecutor was for both Harris and Almena, both were rejected.

Judge James Cramer said that Derick Almena, 48 (in the photo), did not accept "full responsibility and remorse" for a fatal fire that killed 36 people.

Judge James Cramer said that Derick Almena, 48 (in the photo), did not accept "full responsibility and remorse" for a fatal fire that killed 36 people.

In the photo: Max Harris, 28, (left) is in Santa Rita prison in Dublin, California along with Derick Almena, 28 (right)

This aerial photo shows the remains of a warehouse devastated by fire on December 5, 2016

This aerial photo shows the remains of a warehouse devastated by fire on December 5, 2016

This aerial photo shows the remains of a warehouse devastated by fire on December 5, 2016

The incident occurred during an unlicensed concert at the ramshackle Oakland warehouse known as the "Ghost Ship". in 2016

The incident occurred during an unlicensed concert at the ramshackle Oakland warehouse known as the "Ghost Ship". in 2016

The incident occurred during an unlicensed concert at the ramshackle Oakland warehouse known as the "Ghost Ship". in 2016

A crane is used to lift the wreckage of the plane as part of the search efforts in a warehouse devastated by a fire on December 5, 2016 in Oakland, California.

A crane is used to lift the wreckage of the plane as part of the search efforts in a warehouse devastated by a fire on December 5, 2016 in Oakland, California.

A crane is used to lift the wreckage of the plane as part of the search efforts in a warehouse devastated by a fire on December 5, 2016 in Oakland, California.

The judge said he found that Harris was sincere, but since the agreement with the prosecutor was for Harris and Almena, both were rejected.

In court Friday, Harris apologized to the families of the victims for their actions, but told them he did not expect forgiveness.

"I do not know anything I can say that comes close, I'm sorry," he said. & # 39; You are in my prayers and will be for the rest of my life & # 39;

The men could have been released from prison after serving only half of their sentences, which is typical of California inmates who maintain a good disciplinary record.

The relatives of the victims who died in the fire had criticized the proposed sentences for being too lenient.

Cyrus Hoda, the victim's brother Sarah Hoda, said that Almena and Harris were "culture vultures" trying to become arts players from the San Francisco Bay by attracting people to a dangerous place to live and celebrate.

The authorities have alleged that Almena rented the warehouse and illegally converted it into a place of entertainment and residences before the fire. Harris was accused of helping him collect rent and schedule concerts.

LR: Donna Kellogg, Nick Gomez-Hall, Travis Hough, Nicole Siegrist aka Denalda Nicole, Chelsea Faith Dolan, Barrett Clark - 2nd row: Feral Pines, Micah Danemayer, David Cline, Chase Wittenauer aka Nex Iguolo, Pete Wadsworth, Jonathan Bernbaum - 3rd row: Ara Jo, Cash Askew, Sara Hoda, Draven Mcgill, Michela Gregory, Johnny Igaz - 4th row: Alex Ghassan, Hanna Ruax, Edmond Lapine, Em Bohlka, Jennifer Kiyomi Taouye, Jenny Morris - 5th row: Ben Runnels, Alex Vega, Alana Kane, Jennifer Mendiola, Amanda Allen (Kershaw), Griffin Madden, Joey Matlock, aka Joey Casio - Sixth Row: Vanessa Plotkin, Nicholas Walrath, Jason McCarty aka Jalien Adrian, Billy Dixon, Wolfgang Renner, Michelle Sylvan

LR: Donna Kellogg, Nick Gomez-Hall, Travis Hough, Nicole Siegrist aka Denalda Nicole, Chelsea Faith Dolan, Barrett Clark - 2nd row: Feral Pines, Micah Danemayer, David Cline, Chase Wittenauer aka Nex Iguolo, Pete Wadsworth, Jonathan Bernbaum - 3rd row: Ara Jo, Cash Askew, Sara Hoda, Draven Mcgill, Michela Gregory, Johnny Igaz - 4th row: Alex Ghassan, Hanna Ruax, Edmond Lapine, Em Bohlka, Jennifer Kiyomi Taouye, Jenny Morris - 5th row: Ben Runnels, Alex Vega, Alana Kane, Jennifer Mendiola, Amanda Allen (Kershaw), Griffin Madden, Joey Matlock, aka Joey Casio - Sixth Row: Vanessa Plotkin, Nicholas Walrath, Jason McCarty aka Jalien Adrian, Billy Dixon, Wolfgang Renner, Michelle Sylvan

LR: Donna Kellogg, Nick Gomez-Hall, Travis Hough, Nicole Siegrist aka Denalda Nicole, Chelsea Faith Dolan, Barrett Clark – 2nd row: Feral Pines, Micah Danemayer, David Cline, Chase Wittenauer aka Nex Iguolo, Pete Wadsworth, Jonathan Bernbaum – 3rd row: Ara Jo, Cash Askew, Sara Hoda, Draven Mcgill, Michela Gregory, Johnny Igaz – 4th row: Alex Ghassan, Hanna Ruax, Edmond Lapine, Em Bohlka, Jennifer Kiyomi Taouye, Jenny Morris – 5th row: Ben Runnels, Alex Vega, Alana Kane, Jennifer Mendiola, Amanda Allen (Kershaw), Griffin Madden, Joey Matlock, aka Joey Casio – Sixth Row: Vanessa Plotkin, Nicholas Walrath, Jason McCarty aka Jalien Adrian, Billy Dixon, Wolfgang Renner, Michelle Sylvan

Danielle Boudreaux (pictured), 40, who knows Derick Ion Almena and her children and went to the Ghost Ship many times, cries on a memorial sidewalk

Danielle Boudreaux (pictured), 40, who knows Derick Ion Almena and her children and went to the Ghost Ship many times, cries on a memorial sidewalk

Danielle Boudreaux (pictured), 40, who knows Derick Ion Almena and her children and went to the Ghost Ship many times, cries on a memorial sidewalk

A woman pays tribute to people who lost their lives during a fire at the Oakland warehouse

A woman pays tribute to people who lost their lives during a fire at the Oakland warehouse

A woman pays tribute to people who lost their lives during a fire at the Oakland warehouse

Relatives of a victim in the ghost store fire speak during a candlelight vigil at the Lake Merritt memorial in December 2016

Relatives of a victim in the ghost store fire speak during a candlelight vigil at the Lake Merritt memorial in December 2016

Relatives of a victim in the ghost store fire speak during a candlelight vigil at the Lake Merritt memorial in December 2016

The judge said he found Max Harris sincere, but since the agreement with the prosecutor was as much for Harris as for Almena, both were rejected.

The judge said he found Max Harris sincere, but since the agreement with the prosecutor was as much for Harris as for Almena, both were rejected.

The judge said he found Max Harris sincere, but since the agreement with the prosecutor was as much for Harris as for Almena, both were rejected.

A candlelight vigil was held to remember the victims in the fire at the warehouse of the Ghost Ship on Lake Merritt

A candlelight vigil was held to remember the victims in the fire at the warehouse of the Ghost Ship on Lake Merritt

A candlelight vigil was held to remember the victims in the fire at the warehouse of the Ghost Ship on Lake Merritt

Researchers from the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said they could not determine the cause of the fire

Researchers from the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said they could not determine the cause of the fire

Researchers from the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said they could not determine the cause of the fire

Prosecutors said the two men had turned the warehouse into a "deadly trap". residential by stuffing it with highly flammable knickknacks, blocking the few exits from the building and not taking the proper safety precautions before inviting the public to enter.

Almena's attorney, Tony Serra, said the judge's decision on Friday was a complete surprise since Cramer had approved the plea agreement last month.

On Thursday, Paul Matiasic, a lawyer who read a statement from the father of one of the victims, asked the judge rhetorically if he had ever lost a child.

"Yes, I did," Cramer said with a sad smile. Only for you to know. & # 39;

Many people in the court ran out of breath. The judge did not give more details.

Almena's wife and three children also lived in the warehouse, but stayed at a nearby hotel the night of the fire.

His wife, Micah Allison, and one of their daughters sat quietly in court with the grieving families on Thursday and both addressed the judge on Friday.

Almena told the families of the victims that he should have died in the fire and that he was "guilty for believing we were safe."

"Forgive me if you can," he said. "If I could give you my children's lives, I would."

Almena and Harris could face life in prison if they are convicted in a trial. They have already spent a year behind bars.

An Oakland police officer watches the area in front of the collective art warehouse known as the Ghost Ship after a fire

An Oakland police officer watches the area in front of the collective art warehouse known as the Ghost Ship after a fire

An Oakland police officer watches the area in front of the collective art warehouse known as the Ghost Ship after a fire

Serra said he believed the case had "weaknesses" and expects prosecutors to consider another plea offer. The trial date has not been established.

Researchers from the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said they could not determine the cause of the fire.

The relatives of the victims allege in lawsuits that the Oakland Fire Department did not inspect the warehouse annually as required and that the inspectors would have discovered the illegal conversions.

Alex Katz, a spokesman for the city's lawyer, declined to comment.

The lawsuits also allege that Pacific Gas & Electric Co. did not adequately supervise, inspect and repair the electrical equipment that supplied the warehouse with power.

PG & E said in a statement that it cooperated with the investigation and that a review of its records found no electrical problems in the building in the 10 years prior to the fire.

The store owner Chor Ng, who has not been charged, did not return a telephone message seeking comment on Thursday.

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