GHOST SHIP DEFENDANT LIKELY TO BE RELEASED
Ghost Ship master tenant Derick Almena could be released from jail soon amid coronavirus concerns, his attorney said Wednesday.
Alameda County Superior Court Judge Trina Thompson sent both the defense attorneys and the prosecution a note Wednesday indicating that she’ll have Almena released and monitored through an ankle bracelet.
Almena’s attorney Tony Serra said attorneys in the case and the judge will have a teleconference on Friday. Although not a done deal, Serra said it’s looking “strong” that his client could be released.
“I’m very optimistic that he will be out very quickly,” Serra said.
The judge also indicated she would set conditions on his home confinement and exactly where he will stay if released, Serra said.
Prosecutors continue to oppose Almena’s release, however.
“The District Attorney’s Office has consistently sought to have Mr. Almena remain in custody pending trial, and we have opposed every effort to release Mr. Almena to date. We strongly disagree with the Court’s decision to release Mr. Almena from custody on electronic monitoring,” district attorney spokeswoman Teresa Drenick said in a statement Wednesday.
GHOST SHIP DEFENDANT LIKELY TO BE RELEASED
If released, the district attorney’s office will ask that Almena be barred from directly or indirectly contacting any of the victims’ families or witnesses in the case, she said.
Almena is accused of 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter for the deaths of three dozen people who perished in the Oakland warehouse fire on Dec. 2, 2016.
He’s been in custody since June 7, 2017.
Serra had previously filed a motion to release Almena from jail because of health concerns surrounding the coronavirus. The motion was denied by Alameda County Superior Court Judge Trina Thompson last month, but since then at least 11 inmates at the jail have tested positive for COVID-19.
“He’s had a few health issues and they really haven’t taken care of them” at the Dublin jail, Serra said in an interview with this news organization last month. As he’s argued previously, Serra said his client is not a flight risk or a threat to public safety.
Almena, who gained about 60 pounds since being incarcerated, has pre-existing conditions that could make him more susceptible if he contracted COVID-19, Serra said.
Almena’s other defense attorney, Vincent Barrientos, said a jail doctor who examined Almena determined his health had deteriorated during his incarceration. “I don’t want to put words in his mouth,” Barrientos said, “but should a COVID outbreak occur in there, Almena would be in serious trouble.” The attorney said Almean “remains in a vulnerable state and his health is jeopardized every day he remains in custody.”
Like Serra, he didn’t specify what’s wrong with Almena and why he’s particularly vulnerable to the virus.
Serra has previously tried to reduce his client’s bail on several occasions, the first of which was granted in 2017, from $1.08 million to $750,000. Despite other attempts to reduce it, bail has remained at $750,000 since then.
“He’s been in there almost three years. Everyone expects, even the guards, that the inmate population of all jails and prisons is going to be susceptible to the virus,” Serra said last month. “They are trying to protect against it, but we are urging as an act of humanity” to release him to his wife and three kids, the attorney said.
As of Tuesday, Santa Rita’s jail population was 2,012 inmates, the maximum being 3,500. The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office has stated that only inmates suspected of committing serious and violent crimes will be booked and kept in jail because of the coronavirus. So far, more than 300 have been released early as a result.
In September, a judge declared a mistrial after a jury hung 10-2 in favor of conviction on Almena’s 36 involuntary manslaughter counts. His retrial, scheduled to begin at the end of March, was continued to July 6 because the courts are closed under the state’s shelter-in-place order.
DAWG SAYS: ARE WE IN A SITUATION WHERE PUBLIC SAFETY IS TOTALLY COMPRIMISED? I UNDERSTAND IT IS ONLY ALLEGED AT THIS POINT BUT WHAT IS THE MOTIVATION FOR HIM TO NOT FLEE 36 MURDER CHARGES.
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