Jury Acquits One Ghost Ship Defendant, Can't Reach Verdict On Other

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September 05, 2019 - 2:21 pm
A mourner pays his respects as Investigators carry on their work at the Ghost Ship warehouse in Oakland, Calif., on December 13, 2016.

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A jury has acquitted Max Harris for his role in the deadly Ghost Ship fire and failed to reach a verdict for co-defendant Derick Almena.

The jurors found that Harris was not guilty and couldn't agree on a decision for Almena. They were both charged with 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter for the victims who perished in a fast-moving fire that broke out during a party in Oakland on December 2016.

Jurors were split 10-2 in favor of convicting Almena, but needed a unanimous decision to find him guilty. His attorney Tony Serra told reporters that he expects prosecutors will proceed with a retrial. 

The trial lasted months. Prosecutors contended that Almena, the master tenant, and Harris, the second in command at the artists' collective, were responsible for creating the dangerous conditions inside the illegally converted warehouse. 

The defense had argued that the fire was caused by arsonists, although investigators never determined how the flames started.

Almena and Harris' attorneys also claimed that city officials turned a blind eye to the conditions in the building and were well aware that it was being used as a residence. 

Jury deliberations were complicated. Last month, three jurors were dismissed and replaced with alternates. That forced the newly constituted panel to restart deliberations. 

The trial also started with a surprise. A plea deal that had been reached between prosecutors and the defense was thrown out a year ago when Superior Court Judge James Cramer said Almena showed a lack of remorse. 

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Carrie Hodousek, Margie Shafer and Jim Taylor contributed to this report.