There was supposed to be a second trial.
But instead, at a Friday morning court session, Almena offered up 36 guilty pleas. The court hearing was brief and held remotely with no one but attorneys, the judge and defendant there. Families of the Ghost Ship fire victims said it was hard hearing 36 names read in succession.
TIMELINE: How the investigation into the deadly Ghost Ship Fire unfolded
After each name Almena said "guilty."
Grieving mother Colleen Dolan said her daughter Chelsea Faith Dolan was an electronic music composer and DJ who ran back into the burning warehouse in December 2016 to try and save friends.
During the 2019 trial, Almena, as the founder and master tenant, was accused of turning the warehouse into a deadly fire trap, inviting people to live in a space zoned for storage with no sprinklers no exit signs and no sprinklers.
Dolan said, "There are no words to convey our disappointment with this feeble plea-bargain and our sorrow."
Derick Almena pleads GUILTY to 36 counts of manslaughter today in Alameda Co Court for the 36 who perished in the Ghostship warehouse fire in 2016. His guilty pleas avoid a costly second trial. Sentencing on March 8. pic.twitter.com/8geviIWCIB— Leslie Brinkley (@lrbrinkley) January 22, 2021
Almena was jailed in June of 2017. A jury deadlocked over his guilt in 2019. There was supposed to be another trial next month. But things changed.
Mary Alexander, an attorney representing the fire victims' families said, "Since the middle of last year he got out for COVID and he's been with an ankle bracelet at home. It's like he's getting off scot-free."
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Dolan added, "spending quiet time with his family is not justice." Accounting for time served and good behavior, Almena could potentially serve less than 2 more years in custody.
Almena is scheduled to be sentenced on March 8.
He will not face any civil penalties. He remains under house arrest in Lake county.
Almena's attorney and the District Attorney's Office declined to comment since they are under a gag order until the sentencing.
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