Watch CBSN Live

"I just want to see his face": Families of "Ghost Ship" victims face suspect in court

"Ghost Ship" suspect

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Families of some of the dozens of people who were killed in an Oakland warehouse fire attended a court hearing Thursday to catch a glimpse of the man charged with 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter.

Four people wearing buttons with pictures of victims strained to see suspect Derick Almena during his five-minute appearance after they were ushered into the courtroom through a private hallway by victim advocates.

Outside court, the parents of 20-year-old Michela Gregory told reporters that they wanted to see if Almena registered any remorse.

"I just wanted to see his face," David Gregory said.

David and Kimberly Gregory, right, parents of Michela Gregory who died in a warehouse fire, speak to the media outside a courtroom on Thursday, June 8, 2017, in Oakland, Calif. Derick Almena, who leased the Oakland warehouse where 36 people died in a massive fire, appeared briefly in court on charges of involuntary manslaughter. AP

However, he said the families' view was obstructed and they were unable to get a good look at the suspect.

Almena, 47, had been expected to enter a plea in Alameda County Superior Court, but his attorney asked for his arraignment to be rescheduled.

Almena appeared in the Alameda County Superior courtroom dressed in an orange jumpsuit, CBS San Francisco reports. He did not speak in court and cameras weren't allowed in the courtroom.

This photo shows a court docket stapled to a bulletin board outside a courtroom that lists the charges against Derick Almena on Thu., June 8, 2017, in Oakland, Calif. Derick Almena, who leased the Oakland warehouse where 36 people died in a massive fire, appeared briefly in court on charges of involuntary manslaughter. AP

Almena was ordered back to court June 15 when his co-defendant Max Harris, 27, in the case is expected to make his first appearance before a judge.

Meanwhile, the Alameda County Sheriff's office tweeted late Thursday that Harris was booked into Santa Rita jail in Dublin, Calif., on the same charges as Almena.

Max Harris Alameda County Sheriff

Almena and Harris were arrested Monday after a six-month investigation of the Dec. 2 fire that occurred during an unpermitted electronic music concert at the building known as the Ghost Ship.

As part of the involuntary manslaughter counts, they are accused of illegally converting the warehouse into living and party space.

Almena leased the building and Harris helped him sublet space to tenants and promoters, even though the warehouse was not licensed for housing or entertainment, prosecutors said.

Hundreds gather to remember Oakland fire victims

They said the site was cluttered with highly flammable material and the suspects failed to provide adequate fire safety systems.

Almena's attorney Jeffrey Krasnoff said he is being used as a scapegoat in the case and plans to fight the charges.

"This case is one of the more profound tragedies to strike the Bay Area in living memory," Krasnoff said. "Despite the strong emotions, we do not feel the public good will be served by prosecuting our client. This creates a distraction so that the local government doesn't have to address the fundamental issues of housing inequality and fire safety that will continue to be a problem in this community. They have not addressed their failings."

Almena was arrested in nearby Lake County on Monday and charged with creating a deadly firetrap at the warehouse he rented and converted into a party space and housing for financially struggling artists, CBS San Francisco reports.

Derick Almena (L) and Max Harris (R) Lake County Sheriff's Office/CBS San Francisco
View CBS News In