OAKLAND — 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.
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 was ordered back to court June 15 when his co-defendant in the case is expected to make his first appearance before a judge.
Almena and Max Harris, 27, 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.
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.
Almena's arrest "doesn't help the public good" and distracts from the San Francisco Bay Area's affordable housing crisis, the lawyer said.</