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Ghost Ship Case: Derick Almena To Be Released From Santa Rita Jail Due To Coronavirus

OAKLAND (CBS SF) -- An Alameda County Superior Court Judge has decided to release Ghost Ship master tenant Derick Almena from custody at Santa Rita Jail in Dublin due to concerns surrounding coronavirus cases at the jail, officials said Wednesday.

The court decided to released Almena on its own motion. Judge Trina Thompson notified the Alameda County District Attorney and Almena's attorneys, saying that Almena will be released and electronically monitored.

Almena's release was previously denied on March 30. Defense lawyer Tony Serra said he asked that Almena, who has been in custody since he was arrested and charged in June 2017, be released on his own recognizance or a personal recognizance bond because his health is deteriorating and the conditions at Santa Rita are unsafe because of the possibility that inmates and deputies there could spread the coronavirus.

Earlier Wednesday, Santa Rita Jail reported 8 new cases of COVID-19, marking 11 total. Alameda County law enforcement did not specify if Almena was one of the inmates who tested positive.

Teresa Drenick, Deputy District Attorney, said their office "strongly disagrees" with the court's decision to release Almena.

Almena, 49, is charged with 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter for a fire at the Ghost Ship warehouse in the 1300 block of 31st Avenue in Oakland's Fruitvale district the night of Dec. 2, 2016, that killed 36 people.

A lengthy trial for Almena and co-defendant Max Harris, the warehouse's artistic director, ended last Sept. 5 with jurors deadlocked 10-2 in favor of convicting Almena and acquitting Harris of all charges. Harris was released from custody later that day but Almena was in custody in lieu of $750,000 bail.

"The District Attorney's Office will be seeking a specific order that Mr. Almena have no contact either directly or indirectly or through a third party with any of the families of the victims of the case or any witnesses," said Drenick.

Almena's trial date remains set on July 6, 2020.

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