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Derick Almena Faces March Retrial For Ghost Ship Warehouse Fire Deaths

OAKLAND (CBS SF) -- An Alameda County jury will decide once again in March whether or not Ghost Ship master tenant Derick Almena is guilty of 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter in the deadly Oakland warehouse fire.

At a hearing Friday, a judge denied a motion to reduce Almena's $750,000 bail and set March 30 as the date for a new trial.

After weeks of deliberations and the replacement of three jurors for misconduct, a jury on Sept. 5th found Ghost Ship creative director creative director Max Harris not guilty of the manslaughter charges and hung 10-2 for conviction on Almena.

Derick Almena plea deal
Derick Almena (Lake County Sheriff's Office/CBS)

On Friday, prosecutors told Alameda County Superior Court Judge Trina Thompson that they intended to retry Almena.

The retrial decision was not unexpected. Legal analyst Tony Brass told KPIX 5 in September prosecutor will face challenges the second time around.

"With ten jurors voting for guilty, a guilty verdict is within reach. At the same time, not one but two jurors couldn't come up with a decision and that may weaken their resolve to try it a second time," Brass told KPIX.

Almena's attorney Tony Serra has been outspoken on his plans.

"I'm angry. I'm frustrated, but goddammit, we will win next time," said Serra after the mistrial was decared. "In the next trial we will do better. You know, it may hang again, it may be acquitted, but we're not going to lose. Now we know what the witnesses have said, we know our strengths and weaknesses, we won't be joined at the hip with a co-defendant who was obviously innocent, and the jury may contrast obviously between the evidence against Harris and the evidence against my client."

Almena's second trial won't start until next spring because Serra is busy with several other trials before then.

Thompson set a pretrial hearing for Almena for Jan. 31 and told the attorneys in the case to be ready to file motions at that time.

After Almena left court on Friday, Thompson held a hearing for two female jurors who she dismissed on Aug. 19 during jury deliberations for improper communications and found both of them to be in contempt of court.

Thompson issued a $500 fine for one of the jurors but said she wouldn't impose it and make her pay it.

Thompson told that juror, "There was no valid excuse" for contacting a relative who's a firefighter to get information on firefighting procedures that are relevant to the issues in the Ghost Ship fire case.

Thompson told the other juror that she would not impose a fine or order her to serve any jail time.

Two other female jurors came to court on Friday to watch the proceedings in the case.

Almena has been in custody for more than two years as the legal drama has played out.

Prosecutors alleged during the lengthy first trial that that Almena and Harris were criminally liable for the fire that swept through an illegal music party inside the cluttered 10,000-square-foot warehouse in Oakland's Fruitvale district on the night of Dec. 2, 2016.

They presented evidence that the victims were trapped on the second floor, unable to escape the deadly smoke and flames, because the warehouse didn't have important safeguards such as fire extinguishers, smoke alarms and exit signs.

Jurors were also told that Almena and Harris violated the terms of the warehouse's lease by turning it into a living space where up to 25 people stayed and by hosting underground music parties.

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