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Ghost Ship defendant attorneys file motion to dismiss; cite destroyed evidence

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OAKLAND — The attorneys for Ghost Ship defendant Derick Almena filed a motion to dismiss his 36 counts of manslaughter for the deadly 2016 fire, citing that even experts do not know the cause of the fire.

“If the origin and cause of the fire is unknown, how can defendants defend themselves?” wrote attorneys Tony Serra and Brian Getz in the motion filed Tuesday.

Defense attorney Tony Serra speaks to the news media following a preliminary hearing for Derick Almena and "Ghost Ship" co-defendant Max Harris at the René C. Davidson Courthouse in Oakland, Calif., on Thursday, Dec. 14, 2017. Judge Jeffrey Horner ordered defendants Almena and Harris to stand trial, each on 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter stemming from the deadly Dec. 2, 2016 fire at the warehouse. (Anda Chu/Bay Area News Group)
Defense attorney Tony Serra speaks to the news media following a preliminary hearing for Derick Almena and “Ghost Ship” co-defendant Max Harris at the René C. Davidson Courthouse in Oakland, Calif., on Thursday, Dec. 14, 2017. Judge Jeffrey Horner ordered defendants Almena and Harris to stand trial on 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter stemming from the deadly Dec. 2, 2016 fire at the warehouse. (Anda Chu/Bay Area News Group) 

The motion to dismiss will be heard May 11 in Alameda County Superior Court.

Both Almena, along with Max Harris, are former warehouse tenants each charged with 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter for the deaths of 36 people attending an electronic dance party the night of Dec. 2, 2016, at the East Oakland arts collective known as the Ghost Ship or Satya Yuga.

The two men are expected to face a jury on July 16, the tentative start of the trial for charges that they ignored fire codes and obvious safety controls at the warehouse, which contained a warren of illegally constructed lofts and rooms and electricity powered by a mass of extension cords. The inside was filled with furniture, rugs, art and musical instruments, and the labryinth-like interior and thick smoke made it impossible for many guests on the second floor to find their way down make-shift stairs to poorly marked exits.

But in the motion filed by Almena’s attorneys, they argue these items were destroyed in the fire. The items were necessary to determine the cause and origin of the fire and without them, they are “stymied and fatefully declare that the cause and the origin of the fire is not known.”

Serra argues that experts cannot rule out arson, candles, incense, self-combusting paints, lacquers, gas, or a faulty transformer next door.

All of the materials were taken to the dump, they state. They also cite information from the preliminary hearing testimony of Assistant Fire Marshal Maria Sabatini, who they said stated fire debris must be examined to determine the heat source. Sabatini has since retired.

Serra also cites that previous visits from police officers, firefighters and other city inspectors never relayed the information to Almena that the warehouse was dangerous.

He was never placed on notice of any potential illegality with Ghost Ship, the attorneys state, and said Almena relied on their “code of silence.”

Serra also writes that new evidence was brought up in the preliminary hearing that the defense had not seen before.

This is not the fist time Serra has brought up the issue of the cause of fire.

“How can they say my client is negligent when they don’t even know how the fire started?” Serra said in February. “The city sitting on its hands was far more culpable than my client.”

The men were held to answer on all 36 counts each in December 2017, following an emotionally charged preliminary hearing attended by family and friends of the victims.


Source: East Bay Ghost Ship defendant attorneys file motion to dismiss; cite destroyed evidence

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