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Defense attorney: Plea deal reached in Ghost Ship case

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Although nothing was announced in open court, an attorney for Ghost Ship warehouse creative director Max Harris said a plea agreement was reached Friday for Harris and warehouse master tenant Derick Almena for their alleged roles in the fire at the warehouse that killed 36 people.

Tyler Smith, one of three lawyers who represent Harris, said the details of the plea agreement for Almena, 48, and Harris, 28, for the fire during a music party at the warehouse at 1309 31st Ave. in Oakland’s Fruitvale district on Dec. 2, 2016 won’t be announced until the parties in the case return to court Tuesday afternoon.

Smith said one reason for the delay is that prosecutors Autrey James and David Lim want time to tell the victims’ family members about the plea deal.

Smith said the length of the state prison terms that Almena and Harris will serve are “different” but said he’s not at liberty to provide details.

Almena and Harris, who both remain in custody in lieu of $750,000 bail, were scheduled to stand trial on July 16 and could have faced up to 39 years if they had been convicted of the 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter that they face.

The parties in the case met privately in the chambers of Alameda County Superior Court Judge Morris Jacobson for more than two hours this afternoon.

When they emerged at 4:15 p.m. into a brief hearing in open court, Jacobson said the trial is still scheduled to begin on July 16. He also ordered the parties to return to his court on Tuesday afternoon.

Jacobson said, “I expect to conclude any further pretrial discussions at that time,” seeming to indicate that if an agreement wasn’t reached on Tuesday the case would go to trial.

Almena’s lawyer Tony Serra and Curtis Briggs, Harris’ lead attorney, have spoken to reporters after all of the defendants’ previous court appearances, but they both said to a group of about 25 reporters who came to court today that Jacobson has forbidden them from talking about the case until Tuesday.

The closed-door discussions today were the third time that Jacobson tried to get the parties in the case to reach an agreement.

After the first discussions on June 14, Serra said, “The parties are so far apart that there’s no prospect whatsoever of reaching an agreement short of a trial” and that the prosecution’s offer of a proposed settlement “was unacceptable and not realistic.”

But after the second discussions on Monday, Serra said, “This time we were closer.” Jacobson, Serra added, “is very desirous to resolve this case because a trial would be traumatic and dramatic for the victims’ families.”

Serra also said Almena would consider a plea agreement if it would “eliminate the pain and suffering and anguish of the families of the deceased.”

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