The son and daughter of an Oakland property owner appeared in court for the first time Thursday during the trial of two men facing involuntary manslaughter charges in the deadly 2016 fire at the Ghost Ship warehouse that left 36 people dead.
Son, Daughter of Ghost Ship Owner Refuse to Answer Questions in Court
Kai and Eva Ng were ordered to Alameda County Superior Court to determine if certain evidence would be admissible regarding the warehouse, which was illegally converted into a living and event space that caught fire on Dec. 2, 2016, during an electronic music party.
The Ghost Ship fire was the deadliest structure fire in the U.S. in more than 10 years. Assigning criminal culpability for the three dozen deaths has strained Alameda County's judicial system, with a prior judge rejecting a plea agreement in August that would have avoided a trial.
The defense argues that other parties, such as the building's owner, Chor Ng, should have faced charges instead of leaseholder Derick Almena and resident Max Harris.
Eva Ng invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and declined to answer questions from prosecutor Autrey James about lease agreements made with Almena in late 2013.
She also declined to answer questions from defense attorney Curtis Briggs, who represents Harris, about whether she knew that anyone was living at the warehouse on the night of the fire. Attorney Tony Serra, who represents Almena, asked whether Ng knew from the outset that artists would live in the warehouse.
Ng again pleaded the Fifth and declined to answer.
The prosecution asked Kai Ng if he was the property manager of the warehouse. He declined to answer.
Briggs asked Kai Ng if he had offered money or used political influence in order to avoid being charged in the case. Serra asked if Kai Ng had received $3 million from insurance on the warehouse.
Over approximately 30 minutes of questioning, the siblings didn't answer a single time.
After the Ngs left the courtroom separately, Briggs said his client couldn’t get a fair trial without testimony from them, calling them the “single most culpable parties” and “central to the defense” because they collected rent, owned the warehouse and knew why changes to the building occurred.
Serra requested the Ngs be granted immunity so they could testify. The prosecution declined.
“They don’t want these landlords to testify because they’re central to our defense,” Serra said.
Judge Trina Thompson said it was unusual for the defense to request immunity, but said she would look into it. She said opening statements, which are expected for April 30, may be pushed back.
Jury selection is slated to begin next week.