Judge postpones decision on delaying Ghost Ship trial

- A judge postponed a decision Thursday on delaying the trial start date in the Ghost Ship criminal case.

Mater Tenant Derick Almena's attorney Tony Serra wants trial to go ahead in July. Meanwhile, the team for Creative Director Max Harris wants to postpone until fall.

Last month a judge denied a bid by Almena's lawyers to have him released on his own recognizance as he fights the charges against him for his role in the fire that killed 36 people at the Oakland warehouse district in December 2016.

At a hearing last August Murphy reduced Almena's bail from $1.08 million to $750,000 but declined to release him on his own recognizance.

Almena's lawyer Tony Serra asked for a second bail hearing last month in the wake of an appellate court ruling earlier this year that said judges must take a defendant's ability to pay into account when bail amounts are set.

Serra said, "The amount of $750,000 is not bail for an indigent person such as Derick Almena, it's a pre-conviction punishment."

Serra said a defendant's "prospect of getting justice is enhanced" if he's out of custody and is well-dressed and healthy during his trial instead of being in custody, a circumstance that he said tends to make defendants look more haggard and guilty.

Serra also said if Almena were released from custody he wouldn't be a flight risk, wouldn't be a danger to society and would be willing to wear an electronic monitor.

But prosecutor Autrey James said Almena isn't good at following rules, alleging that the Ghost Ship warehouse was in violation of fire safety codes and didn't have a permit for residential use.

James said, "We're here because he (Almena) absolutely would not follow the law."

James also said he's concerned by Serra's statement that if Almena is released he would live in Lakeport in Lake County because that's three and a half hours away from Alameda County and he might not make it to court on time and it would be hard for authorities to monitor him there.

Murphy agreed that there would be "an issue of feasibility and predictability" if Almena lived in Lakeport during his trial and also said Almena's ties to Alameda County "are very tenuous."

Murphy said, "His family is not here, he doesn't have a job here, he doesn't have property here."

Taking those factors into consideration, Murphy denied Almena's motion to be released on his own recognizance and kept his bail at $750,000.

Read more about our previous coverage here. 

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