published on September 27, 2017 - 1:50 PM
Written by Edward Smith

(AP) — Two men have pleaded not guilty in connection with a fire that killed 36 people in an illegally converted Northern California warehouse.

Derick Almena and Max Harris entered pleas Wednesday to 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter each.

Prosecutors say the two men turned the Oakland warehouse into a deathtrap when they turned it into a housing and entertainment venue.

The 47-year-old Almena leased the warehouse, and prosecutors say 27-year-old Harris helped rent living space and organize for-profit concerts.

Both men lived in the warehouse along with several other tenants when a fire engulfed the structure in December during a musical performance that dozens attended.

The suspects’ lawyers say the responsibility for the fire should be determined with lawsuits in civil court rather than with criminal charges.

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