Following the September 5 mistrial in the five-month Ghost Ship fire case, defendant Derick Almena is due back in court this week to set a date for his next trial — and his attorneys are now seeking a significant reduction in his bail.
Almena and co-defendant Max Harris had both been in jail since June 2017 in lieu of $750,000 bail, and as KPIX reports, his attorneys argue in a new filing that he poses neither a danger to the public nor is he a potential flight risk. Almena's wife and three children have taken up residence in Lake County, where he would join them pending a second trial — and, they argue, Almena "did not flee and remained in the Bay Area" during the six months that he was a suspect in the fire but had not been charged.
Harris was released from Santa Rita jail in Alameda County within hours of the trial's conclusion earlier this month — the jury voted unanimously to acquit Harris on 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter for his alleged role in the December 2, 2016 warehouse blaze, but deadlocked 10-2 on Almena's guilt, with 10 voting to convict.
On Friday, October 4, Almena and his attorneys will return to Judge Trina Thompson's courtroom to set future court dates, including a date for a potential new trial.
In the bail-reduction request made public Monday, attorney Brian Getz writes that Almena does not present a public safety threat, and the 2016 fire "did not involve the use of firearms or possession of controlled substances." Further, he writes, the fire "is alleged to be the result of negligence rather than express or implied malice; neither Mr. Almena or anyone associated with him ever threatened any witnesses in this matter."
Almena being freed on bail would not likely not well with the families of the 36 victims who were frustrated that the five-month trial did not result in anyone being found responsible for the fire. An upcoming civil trial is expected to pursue damages from more defendants, including the Oakland Fire and Police departments, and the landlords who owned the Oakland warehouse.