Ghost Ship defendants lose bid to toss case

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A judge denied a motion Friday by the two defendants charged in the deadly Ghost Ship warehouse fire in Oakland.

Judge Kevin Murphy of Alameda County Superior Court rejected a bid by Derick Almena and Max Harris to toss the 36 involuntary manslaughter charges they each face, one count for each victim who died in the December 2016 fire.

Harris' attorney Curtis Briggs acknowledged that the defense had faced an uphill battle in convincing the judge to throw out the case entirely.

"The odds of winning that are always very low," Briggs said.

So now, the defense says they will try to prove that evidence from the fire was dumped and destroyed - or went missing after the warehouse was released back to property owner Chor Ng. Ng isn't facing any criminal charges.

Briggs said giving Ng and her representatives access to evidence in the case "is essentially like giving the murder weapon back to the murder suspect."

 Ng has declined KTVU's repeated requests for comment.

  But someone who will talk at trial? Almena himself. 

"So Mr. Almena will be testifying, and he'll be testifying on his own behalf," said his attorney, Tony Serra. "He's the one that knows the most about what has occurred."

Most defense attorneys don't want their clients on the stand. It's a legal strategy that carries risks, because prosecutors will want to grill defendants on cross-examination. But Serra disagrees. 

 "I think that his testimony alone will raise reasonable doubt," Serra said.

And the defense has been raising doubt from the very beginning about the DA's case, saying there's no evidence tying either defendant to the fire. And investigators still don't know what started it.

"If you don't have evidence, how do you prosecute somebody?" asked Kali Mari-Bowyer, a spokeswoman for Almena's family. "If you don't have a cause of the fire, how do you prosecute somebody?"

Micah Allison, Almena's wife, made a rare appearance in court to support her husband.

"I haven't seen my husband for months," Allison said. "It's good to see him, terrible to see him like this."

She said of the judge's ruling, "I'm really disappointed that the motion got dismissed today. I don't think that was right. I don't think - the whole thing - I don't feel that it's just"

The trial is set for July 16. Harris will return to court later this month in a bid to reduce his $750,000 bail. Murphy has previously rejected a motion to reduce Almena's bail.

 

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