Ghost Ship warehouse master tenant Derick Almena took the stand Monday in the ongoing Ghost Ship trial, and told jurors, "I'm tired, broken-hearted. I've been in solitary confinement for two years."
Monday saw two of the biggest developments in weeks in the ongoing Ghost Ship trial, wherein the space’s proprietor Derick Almena and his co-defendant Max Harris are facing 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter for the deadly December 2016 blaze.
First, a friend of Almena's who had been living in the empty lot next to the warehouse testified that he heard an argument, and breaking glass, and saw a group of individuals running out of a side door of the building just prior to the fire breaking out.
Then Almena himself took the stand for the first time in the trial, looking much different than the mugshots you’re used to seeing, in a navy blue suit and collared shirt. The Chronicle reports that he trotted out the arson theory again, and insisted to the judge and jury that landlord Chor Ng misled him with an inaccurate lease.
“I signed a lease for something that shouldn't be rented for an artists' collective," Almena said on the stand, according to KTVU.
Almena also said there was “a definite understanding” between he and Ng that a couple dozen people were indeed living at the Ghost Ship space. He also claimed that he attempted to get Ng to make several safety upgrades to the place, to no avail.
Prosecutors argue Almena knew full well the space lacked fire sprinklers, exit signs, smoke alarms, and other basic safety needs. But once again, Almena blamed his landlord and the city of Oakland more then himself in the tragedy.
“I think he was performing remorse,” Grace Lovio, who lost her boyfriend in the fire, told the Chronicle shortly after his testimony. “Because he hasn’t shown remorse up to this point.”
But Almena mentioned on Monday that he’d been put on suicide watch, and had gained 60 pounds during his confinement.
"I feel responsible for having this idea (an artists' warehouse) spiritually, morally," Almena said on the stand. "I built something that attracted beautiful people to the space."
On Tuesday, as ABC 7 reports, Almena continued to testify in his defense, and he accused several prosecution witnesses of lying on the stand, including an Oakland police officer whom he claimed visited the warehouse multiple times. Almena says that Oakland police Officer Bryant Ocampo had offered him and his family special protection after they feared gang retaliation for Almena's role in driving a shooting victim at a nearby Wendy's to the hospital in July 2014. When asked by his own attorney why Ocampo would have lied, Almena said today, "He's protecting something."
Almena still will face cross-examination by prosecutors in the coming days.
Almena's statements have previously been off-putting both to the victims' families and to a judge — statements he made at what would have been a sentencing hearing last August led to a judge rescinding a plea deal that led to the current trial.