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No Convictions in Trial over Ghost Ship Fire that Killed Thirty-Six People

A Bay Area jury acquitted one man of thirty-six counts of involuntary manslaughter in the trial over the deadly 2016 fire that ripped through a warehouse in Oakland, California, known as the Ghost Ship, and was unable to reach a verdict for another defendant, the New York Times reports. Both men faced up to thirty-nine years in prison if convicted.

Prosecutors were attempting to prove that Max Harris, 29, the self-described “creative director” of the Ghost Ship, which had been converted into a ramshackle artist residence and studio space, and Derick Almena, 49, the warehouse’s property manager and leaseholder, were responsible for one of the worst structural fires in California’s history.

They claimed that the warehouse was turned into a “death trap” due to its illegal construction, poor electrical work, overcrowding, and obstructed exit routes. More than one hundred people had been at the Ghost Ship, where an electronic-music concert was taking place, the night the fire broke out on December 2, 2016, and thirty-six people died of smoke inhalation.

Defense attorneys argued that the city failed to enforce building and fire codes at the warehouse and said that it’s possible that arsonists started the fire—investigators were unable to determine its cause. Ultimately, Harris was acquitted, and the jury was deadlocked over Almena, with ten jurors who voted in favor of conviction and two who were opposed. Many members of the victims’ families expressed shock over the outcome.

Almena and Harris had originally been offered a plea deal, which would have given Almena nine years in prison and Harris six, but it had been withdrawn after protests from families who called it too lenient. A hearing for a new trial for Almena will take place sometime next month. While the two men were the only people who were charged in connection to the fire, the building’s owner and landlord, Chor Nar Siu Ng, is facing civil suits.