In this Dec. 7, 2016 file photo, Oakland fire officials walk past the remains of the Ghost Ship warehouse damaged from a deadly fire in Oakland, Calif. A lawyer says a plea deal is near for the central figure charged in connection with the Northern Califo

(Photo credit: AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)

Plea Deal Reached In Ghost Ship Warehouse Fire

June 29, 2018 - 9:35 am
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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Lawyers said Friday that a tentative plea deal has been reached for two defendants in connection with a Northern California warehouse fire that killed three dozen partygoers at an unlicensed concert in 2016.

Attorneys for Derick Almena and Max Harris expect the two men to formally agree to plea deals on Tuesday.

Derick Almena - mugshot
(Photo credit: Alameda County Sheriff's Office)

Tyler Smith and Curtis Briggs, lawyers representing Harris, said the agreement was reached after more than two hours of negotiations, but it still needs to be finalized.

The judge asked lawyers to refrain from discussing details until the defendants appear in court.

Alameda County prosecutor Teresa Drenick declined to comment.

Earlier in the day, Almena's attorney Tony Serra said his client agreed to plead guilty in exchange for an eight-year prison term. However, the details of that deal could have changed during the lengthy negotiations.

Serra also said Harris was arguing for a lesser sentence than Almena, who rented the warehouse and is accused of illegally converting it into a residence and entertainment venue.

Harris helped Almena manage the warehouse, collecting rent and scheduling concerts.

Serra said a plea deal will spare the victims' families from testifying at a trial where photos of burned bodies and other emotionally fraught evidence would be shown.

Prosecutors say Almena turned the cluttered building into a "death trap" with few exits, rickety stairs and dark and dangerous passageways.

Almena, his wife and three children lived in the warehouse but were staying in an Oakland hotel the night of the fire, which broke out during an electronic music performance in 2016.

In an interview with San Francisco Bay Area news station KTVU-TV, Almena says he "didn't put a bullet in anybody" but is ready to accept responsibility for the blaze, which became the nation's deadliest structure fire since flames swept a Rhode Island nightclub in 2003 and killed 100 people.

Almena has already been credited with two years of imprisonment.

Serra said Almena also is eligible for a California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation sentence reduction because involuntary manslaughter charges are classified as non-violent.