Ghost Ship fire victims' family members express grief, outrage

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- Emotions ran high inside an Alameda County courtroom as the sentencing for the Ghost Ship warehouse defendants got underway Thursday.

Defendants Max Harris and Derick Almena struck a plea deal last month with prosecutors to avoid a trial.

RELATED: Oakland Ghost Ship fire defendants reach plea deal, will avoid trial

The two-day sentencing began with impact statements from the victim's family members.

People left the courtroom Thursday - some still in tears - after hours of emotional testimony from friends and families of the Ghost Ship warehouse fire victims.

Thirty-six people were killed in the massive inferno after being trapped inside.

VIDEO: Attorneys, victim's father speak about Ghost Ship fire plea deal

Families spoke of the pandemonium during and after the December 2, 2016 Oakland blaze as they desperately searched for loved ones. They also shared the victims' dreams.

"Right now, I can't think clear," said Karen Frieholtz, aunt of Michaela Gregory, a 20-year-old victim who was attending San Francisco State University.

Frieholtz urged the judge for a stricter sentence for the two defendants - one of them had his back to the families the entire time.

"I think they should have faced us. I think they should have looked at us," said Frieholtz.

PHOTOS: A look inside the Oakland Ghost Ship collective warehouse

Through a plea deal, Ghost Ship warehouse master tenant Derick Almena and creative director Max Harris pleaded no contest to involuntary manslaughter charges last month -- avoiding a lengthy trial

Many of the victims' families were critical of what they call a lenient sentence. Almena is set to face nine years in jail, Harris six years. "This sentence is unfair, it's unbalanced. It's negligent," said Terry Ewing, close friend of victim Ara Jo.

"Many of the family members said they wanted to have a trial so they could have answers as to what happened," said Mary Alexander, lead counsel representing the families in their civil suit. "They're disappointed that there's not a trial, but that leaves us in a civil suit and we're going to answer those questions for them."

Through a separate civil lawsuit, families are hoping to hold others accountable - including the city and state. That lawsuit could go to trial next year. Right now, the focus is on Friday's sentencing.

For for full coverage on the investigation into Oakland's deadly Ghost Ship Fire, visit this page.

RELATED: Remembering the Oakland Ghost Ship Fire victims
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Take a moment to remember the creative souls we lost in the Ghost Ship Fire.

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