The two men charged in the aftermath of the Ghost Ship warehouse fire that claimed 36 lives in Oakland a year ago are expected in court Monday for a preliminary hearing.
Prosecutors are expected to present evidence in Alameda County Superior Court showing why Derick Almena and Max Harris should stand trial on involuntary manslaughter charges. Almena was the master tenant at the warehouse, and Harris hosted the party where the deadly fire broke out Dec. 2, 2016.
Legal analyst Dean Johnson says while the prosecution tries to show there is enough evidence for a trial, the defense for Almena and Harris is likely to reveal very little Monday.
"In a preliminary hearing, the prosecution has a minimum burden of proof," Johnson said, adding that part of the defense's strategy is not giving the prosecution a preview of its defense.
Almena and Harris pleaded not guilty in September after being charged with 36 counts of involunary manslaughter for the deaths in the massive fire. They’re accused of creating unsafe conditions at the warehouse.
Prosecutors argue that party-goers had to use a set of makeshift stairs in order to escape the fire because Almena and Harris had blocked access to one of the building's exits, turning the space into a fire hazard.
Sources say up to 25 witnesses may be called to Monday's hearing. Johnson says if it moves to trial, the history and condition of the building may weigh heavily.
"Now the real question for prosecution and the defense is can they show that these individual defendants were responsible for those conditions, that they knew or should have known and possibly could have done something about the conditions to prevent the tragedy that happened," Johnson said.