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Ghost Ship trial resumes, jury rests without verdict

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Jim Heaphy, Cullen328 on Wikimedia Commons
Site of the Ghost Ship warehouse in Oakland, Calif. Thirty-six people were killed in a fire that erupted at the Fruitvale District artist collective warehouse during a live music show on the night of Dec. 2, 2016.

The reconstituted jury panel in the trial of Ghost Ship warehouse master tenant Derick Almena and creative director Max Harris resumed deliberations on Tuesday after a lengthy break but didn’t reach a verdict and will return Wednesday.

Almena, 49, and Harris, 29, are each charged with 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter for a fire at a music party at the 10,000-square-foot warehouse, which served as an artists’ collective, in the 1300 block of 31st Avenue in Oakland’s Fruitvale district. The fire killed 36 people the night of Dec. 2, 2016.

The lengthy case, which began on April 30, was submitted to jurors on July 31 but on Aug. 19, which was their tenth day of deliberations, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Trina Thompson dismissed three jurors for alleged misconduct. Thompson replaced them with three alternates and ordered the panel to start deliberating from scratch.

The revised jury deliberated on Aug. 20 and 21 but then took a long break until it returned Tuesday, which was its third full day of deliberations.

Jim Heaphy, Cullen328 on Wikimedia Commons Site of the Ghost Ship warehouse in Oakland, Calif. Thirty-six people were killed in a fire that erupted at the Fruitvale District artist collective warehouse during a live music show on the night of Dec. 2, 2016.

Brian Getz, one of Almena’s attorneys, said at the end of the day that he’s not surprised the new jury hasn’t reached a verdict yet because the trial has been lengthy and the new panel has only worked together for three days so far.

Getz said:

“[The jury] must decide what was significant in the trial and what wasn’t significant.”

Almena and Harris face up to 39 years in state prison if they’re convicted of all of 36 counts they each face.

Getz added:

“It’s not a small case.” 

Thompson hasn’t disclosed the nature of the alleged juror misconduct. But in her comments to attorneys in hearings outside the presence of jurors she has indicated that it may have been for violating her admonishment to jurors not to read materials outside the scope of the evidence in the trial and not to discuss the case outside the deliberating room, even with other jurors.

Thompson has barred the lawyers in the case from talking about the closed hearings she held on Aug. 19 to discuss the alleged juror misconduct. Thompson held another closed hearing Tuesday but the subject of the hearing wasn’t disclosed. Getz said Thompson will hold another closed hearing Wednesday morning.

Thompson said two weeks ago that she has initiated contempt of court proceedings against two of the three dismissed jurors for allegedly not obeying her instructions to them.

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