Two suspects plead no contest in deadly US warehouse fire

The blaze in December 2016 in Oakland was one of the United States' worst structural fires.

Published: 04th July 2018 11:38 AM  |   Last Updated: 04th July 2018 11:38 AM   |  A+A-

Kimberly and David Gregory, center and top right, the parents of Michela Gregory, a victim in the 2016 Oakland warehouse fire, listen next to attorney Mary Alexander, right, during a news conference at a courthouse in Oakland, Calif., Tuesday, July 3, 201

By AFP

WASHINGTON: Two men pleaded no contest Tuesday to charges of involuntary manslaughter over a fire that killed 36 people at a dilapidated California warehouse, which served as an entertainment venue and cheap housing for young artists.

The blaze in December 2016 in Oakland was one of the United States' worst structural fires.

The men are now scheduled to be sentenced to prison time next month.

The pleas were entered by Derick Almena, 48, the leaseholder of the building known locally as the Ghost Ship, and Max Harris, 28, who helped him manage it. Authorities said they knowingly allowed the building to become a fire trap.

Most of those who died had been attending a party on the second floor, which had only one makeshift staircase as a way to escape.

The cause of the fire is still not known.

At a hearing Tuesday, the two suspects said the words 'no contest' after the names of all 36 fatalities were read out, news reports said.

"They acted with reckless conduct, and that caused the death of 36 men and women," said Teresa Drenick, an assistant district attorney for the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office, according to the New York Times.

"With today's pleas, not only do both they take responsibility, but they are now also found guilty of all 36 counts," Drenick added.

Had the case gone to trial they faced a maximum sentence of 35 years in prison, she said.  

But under the plea deal, Almena is expected to be sentenced to nine years in prison and three years on supervised release, while Harris is expected to be sentenced to six years in prison and four years of supervised release.

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