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The Ghost Ship warehouse following the fire that killed thirty-six people on December 2, 2016. Photo: Jim Heaphy.
The Ghost Ship warehouse following the fire that killed thirty-six people on December 2, 2016. Photo: Jim Heaphy.

Judge Dismisses Jurors in Trial over Oakland’s Deadly Ghost Ship Fire

As the jury in the trial over a devastating fire that engulfed an abandoned warehouse—known as the Ghost Ship—and killed thirty-six people in Oakland, California, in 2016 entered its tenth day of deliberations on Monday, the judge presiding over the case dismissed three female jurors. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the women, who were excused for undisclosed reasons, were replaced with alternate jurors—two men and one woman—and now deliberations must start over again.

Opening statements in the case, which will decide whether the defendants, Derick Almena and Max Harris, are guilty of thirty-six counts of involuntary manslaughter, were first heard on April 30. If convicted, Almena and Harris will face up to thirty-nine years in prison. When the blaze at the warehouse erupted on December 2, 2016, the Ghost Ship, which served as a makeshift artist colony for creatives who couldn’t afford housing in the Bay Area, was hosting an electronic-music party. The building, which was cluttered and packed with people’s belongings, furniture, and other equipment, had only two exits and did not have a fire-detection system or sprinklers.

The defendants had pleaded no contest to manslaughter last year and were set to receive prison sentences of nine and six years, but their pleas were thrown out following protests from the victims’ families. According to the prosecutors, Almena was the master tenant of the building, and Harris acted as the landlord by collecting rent money and addressing issues that arose. Since investigators were not able to determine the cause of the fire, the defense has claimed that it may have been arson.

The building is owned by Chor Ng and her children, Eva and Kai Ng, who were subpoenaed to testify before Alameda County Superior Court judge Trina Thompson in April. According to the East Bay Times, the siblings pleaded the fifth and have not addressed the tragic incident publicly. In court filings from a separate civil suit, the Ngs have accused an electrician who worked on the warehouse of fraud for informing them that he was licensed when his license had actually expired in 2010. The documents also blamed Almena for breaching the lease by inviting tenants to live in the building, which is zoned for commercial use only. The family is not facing criminal charges.