Attorneys for Ghost Ship fire suspects won't ask for change of venue

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- For months, attorneys for Ghost Ship defendants Derick Almena and Max Harris have been talking about moving the case out of Alameda County, but now, there's been a sudden change of course.

"We have withdrawn the prospect of filing a motion for change of venue," said Almena's lead attorney Tony Serra after a brief hearing Monday in Alameda County Superior Court. "We ascertained that the juries here in Alameda are more favorable to our cause than other counties."

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Almena's attorney Tony Serra explained that research showed prospective jurors in Oakland and Alameda County are more likely to sympathize with Ghost Ship founder Almena and Harris than those outside of the area.

Both men face 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter in the December 2016 fire that killed three dozen people inside a warehouse that had been transformed into a makeshift live/work space for artists.

While Almena's attorneys are hoping to have his plea deal reinstated at a hearing here next month, Max Harris' defense team is fully committed to taking his case to trial.

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"Max Harris does not want the plea bargain," said Curtis Briggs, Harris' lead attorney. "Max Harris wants to vindicate himself. We want to do that based on our review of the discovery and the evidence. It's overwhelmingly in favor of Max Harris."
Harris and Almena are the only two people facing criminal charges for the deadly fire, but a separate civil suit names them as well as the city of Oakland, PG & E and the owner of the building, Chor Ng, as defendants.

"The owner of a building must make it safe, has a duty to make a building safe," said Mary Alexander, who represents the family of the victims in the civil trial.

Almena's hearing to reinstate the plea deal is set for Nov. 9, while the criminal trial for both men now scheduled for next April.

Laura Anthony will have more on this story starting at 4 p.m. on ABC7 News. You can follow her on Twitter here.

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