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Men charged in Oakland warehouse fire have plea deals rejected

Posted at 4:00 PM, Aug 10, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-10 19:03:53-04

California judge rejects plea deals for 2 men charged with involuntary manslaughter after deadly 2016 warehouse fire.


3:30 p.m.

The sentencing for two men who pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in an Oakland warehouse fire that killed 36 people has turned tense and deeply emotional while victims' relatives testified. 

Judge James Cramer on Thursday stopped Colleen Dolan from displaying a coroner's photo of the charred body of her 33-year-old daughter, Chelsea Dolan.

Cramer politely interrupted Dolan's angry testimony and gently said he has previously seen the photo. Dolan complied after telling the judge that she "had to kiss that burned body goodbye."

She then interrupted a lawyer reading a letter from his client Sami Long Koppelman, whose 34-year-old son, Edmond William Lapine II, was another victim of the 2016 fire.

Attorney Paul Matiasic asked rhetorically if the judge knew the pain of losing a son or daughter. Cramer replied, "I have," and many relatives responded with audible gasps.


11:15 a.m.

Tearful relatives of three people killed in a Northern California warehouse fire are upset with a plea deal struck between prosecutors and the two defendants each charged with 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter.

Four relatives testified Thursday that proposed prison sentences for the two defendants are too short.

Derick Almena pleaded no contest to the charges in exchange for a nine-year prison sentence. Max Harris agrees to plead no contest in exchange for a six-year term.

Almena rented the warehouse and illegally converted it into a residential space and entertainment venue. Almena hired Harris to help collect rent and schedule concerts.

Echoing the testimony of other relatives, Cyrus Coda says he feels the sentences were too lenient and that other people and government agencies should also be held responsible, including the warehouse's owner.


10:30 a.m.

Relatives of 36 people killed at a warehouse fire in Northern California are testifying during the sentencing of two men convicted in their deaths.

Susan Slocumb's 32-year-old daughter, Donna Kellogg, was killed at the warehouse during an illegal concert in 2016.

Slocumb was the first relative to testify Thursday. She says Derick Almena and Max Harris should be given lengthier sentences than a plea deal calls for.

In a plea bargain with the Alameda County district attorney's office, Almena agreed to a nine-year prison sentence and Harris agreed to six years.

Slocum said the defendants "got off easy in the plea deal."

Judge James Cramer opened the hearing by admonishing everybody to remain calm, saying he expected it to be "heart wrenching."


12:00 a.m.

Two men who pleaded no contest to 36 charges of involuntary manslaughter will face the families of those who died in a fire at an illegally converted Northern California warehouse.

Derick Almena and Max Harris will appear in an Oakland courtroom starting Thursday.

Relatives of the victims are expected to testify about their losses before the two are sentenced on Friday.

Prosecutors say Almena rented the warehouse he dubbed the Ghost Ship and illegally converted it into a residence and entertainment venue before a blaze ripped through it during an illegal concert in 2016. Almena hired Harris to help collect rent and schedule concerts.