The man at the center of the Ghost Ship fire criminal trial may accept a new plea deal as early as Friday, to avoid more ‘sadness and suffering’ by the victims and families.
Derick Almena spoke for more than 40 minutes with 2 Investigates this week. His attorneys, and those representing co-defendant Max Harris, have been meeting with prosecutors behind closed doors to discuss a possible deal before the trial begins in July. Both men are facing 36 counts of manslaughter for the deaths of 36 people killed in a fire that broke out during a party in December 2016, at the warehouse. Almena was the signatory on the lease and has spent the last year in jail.
“My only chance of getting out of here is to blame everybody else and I can do that because they’re at fault as well, but I don’t want to do that,” he explained. “I don’t want to ruin any lives of firemen, any police, any CPS workers because they gave me back my children. They said it was safe.”
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Almena appears to be having a change of heart about mounting a defense in court to prove his innocence. He turned down a deal a couple weeks ago when prosecutors offered 18 years in prison, however, new negotiations have Almena prepared to settle in order to put all of this behind him. He wouldn’t reveal the exact details of the latest offer from the Alameda County District Attorney’s office, saying he feared ruining the negotiations.
For the first time, Almena admitted to 2 Investigates producer Simone Aponte that he’s ready to own up to his share of the blame.
“I feel responsible. I feel like I created something and people died in my home,” he said. “It’s horrible and I have to live with this the rest of my life.”
A decision on the plea negotiations could come as early as Friday afternoon during a hearing in downtown Oakland. The trial is scheduled for July and attorneys predict it could last up to six months. Prosecutors have told the judge their witness list consists of 50 people, and the defense team said they plan to call 25 witnesses of their own in total.
Almena explained by taking a plea deal and serving time, he is able to save others from more sadness.
“To sit through months of parents looking at the burnt remains of their children it’s not even worth it,” Almena said. “What that’s going to do to their psyche and the world? … That sadness is going to reverberate through the entire universe and just create more suffering. I can’t be a part of that anymore.”
He is earning double credit for time served, so at this point Almena would have about two years taken off any jail sentence. Almena’s two children are seven and eight years old and he said if he takes a plea deal the children will be still in their early teens when he gets out. It appears if he accepts the current offer from the DA, he may ultimately serve less than 10 years in prison.
Several times in the interview, Almena said he is nervous about going to trial and even if he does take a deal, said the responsibility for the fire is still being pinned on him alone.
“I didn’t hold anybody down, I didn’t put a bullet in anybody,” he exclaimed. “But I’m taking it all on. I know if I take a deal, then it ends. Then nobody is to blame after me… I don’t care. My life’s over.”