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Ghost Ship fire defendants enter no contest plea, sentencing to follow

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Oakland Fire Department assesses aftermath of Dec. 2, 2016 fatal Ghost Ship fire that claimed 36 lives. Photo courtesy of SFGate

Guest Post by Nevin Long

The only two defendants charged in the Ghost Ship warehouse fire, which killed 36 people on December 2, 2016, entered pleas of no contest in Alameda Superior Court Wednesday.

Max Harris, 28, and Derick Almena, 48, agreed to sentences of six and nine years, respectively, in an agreement with prosecutors. It is reported that Harris, Almena and the prosecution preferred to avoid a lengthy and uncertain court battle in which the co-defendants would have been tried for 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter.

In distinction from a guilty plea, a plea of no contest, or nolo contendere, is not an admission of guilt. Instead, defendants who enter such a plea agree to accept the punishment of the court without contesting charges.

The trial, which was slated for July 16, will not proceed. However, the judge allocated two days for sentencing to give each family time to present victim impact statements. The two men are scheduled for sentencing on August 9 and 10.

Families of the victims, some of whom were in the Oakland courtroom today, told The Mercury News told they were dissatisfied with deal and wanted to see the men serve more time.

In a press conference Friday, however, Harris’s aunt said that he “does not have a malicious or greedy bone in his body.”

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