Defendants in Oakland Ghost Ship Fire take steps toward plea deal

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- The defendants in the Ghost Ship Fire case took steps toward a plea deal Monday.

"We're closer. That's all I can say," said famed criminal defense attorney Tony Serra as he emerged from an Oakland courtroom.

Tony Serra is the lead attorney for defendant Derick Almena, one of two men criminally charged in the Ghost Ship warehouse fire. Serra now says a plea bargain is at least a possibility, ahead of a jury trial now set to begin on July 16th.

"I've always believed 100 percent that this case would be a jury trial and that we would be going to trial as scheduled on July 16th, but last time we were so far apart, this time we're closer," explained Serra.

Almena and co-defendant Max Harris are both charged with 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter for the December 2016 warehouse fire. If convicted they each face up to 39 years in state prison.

Last week, the ABC7 News I-Team reported that Almena rejected an offer from the Alameda County District Attorney's office of 18 years in prison.

RELATED: Judge rules Ghost Ship defendants will go to trial

Serra would not describe the latest offer, except to characterize it as an improvement.

However, the attorney for Harris did not seem as optimistic about a plea agreement. Curtis Briggs told us the only acceptable deal would be one where his client doesn't serve any additional jail time.

"To me, any jail time is unacceptable," said Curtis Briggs, the attorney for Harris. "It's still a very difficult scenario, and in the meantime, we're preparing for trial and we want to take advantage of this opportunity that if we do go to trial, we're going to make this the toughest case to try, in history for the prosecution."

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Morris Jacobson set another settlement hearing for this Friday afternoon at 2 p.m.The negotiations themselves are held behind closed doors, in the judge's chamber.

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