Tony Serra, defense attorney for Ghost Ship master tenant Derick Almena, addresses reporters after his opening statement in Alameda County Superior Court, Oakland, May 1, 2019

Jenna Lane/KCBS

Defense Suggests Arsonists Caused Ghost Ship Fire

"That suggests Molotov cocktails."

Jenna Lane
May 01, 2019 - 1:47 pm

OAKLAND — After hearing the district attorney's office blame the deadly Ghost Ship warehouse fire on the disregard for safety of two tenants, jurors on Wednesday listened to a defense attorney suggest the catastrophe was caused by an explosion. 

The breathtaking loss of 36 people during the inferno that engulfed a party in 2016 was the first thing Casey Bates, an Alameda County prosecutor, wanted the jurors to remember. He showed them portraits and read the victims' names aloud. Then they heard 911 calls and saw rental agreements — details of the fire itself and of the property where an artists’ collective hosted the party that ended in tragedy.

Defense attorneys don’t dispute the facts of the fire or how the victims died, but they promised during opening statements to show evidence that arsonists could have ignited the flames. 

Related: At Start Of Ghost Ship Trial, Video Shows Defendants Misled Police About Warehouse

“One witness close by heard popping sounds, like glass breaking, right before the fire,” said Tony Serra, who represents Derick Almena, the master tenant of the Ghost Ship. “Then he saw people run out the back door,” from an area where party guests were not allowed.

“That suggests Molotov cocktails," Serra said. 

Serra and the attorney for co-defendant Max Harris are portraying their clients as artists just doing their best to serve their collective and community, and they’re pointing the finger at myriad officials who they say never notified the tenants of any fire hazards.

“Many times, the fire department and the police department and the sheriff and the child protective service were there, and they thought it was beautiful and awesome,” Serra said. “They never told him it was a fire hazard. They never red-tagged him. They never gave him an eviction notice.”

The trial will resume on Monday.