3 Jurors in Ghost Ship Trial Replaced – Deliberations Must Begin All Over Again

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Alameda County Superior Court Judge Trina Thompson presides as Deputy District Attorney Casey Bates made his opening statements in the Ghost Ship fire criminal trial on April 30.  (Court illustration by Vicki Behringer)

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Trina Thompson on Monday dismissed three jurors in the criminal trial of Derick Almena and Max Harris, each charged with 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter in the 2016 Oakland Ghost Ship warehouse fire.

The jurors have been replaced with three alternate jurors, and deliberations — which have already gone on for 10 days — must now begin all over again.

The development comes more than four months after the trial began.

Judge Thompson did not immediately provide a reason for the jurors' replacement. The new jury restarted deliberations Monday afternoon after the announcement. They were told to disregard previous deliberations.

Thompson reissued jury instructions, including not to "interact in any way with a news agency."

A gag order has also been reinstated in the trial, and the defense and prosecution were forbidden to speaking to the press after court recessed for the day.

The jury is now made up of seven women and five men, whereas the previous jury was made up of nine women and three men.

The East Oakland warehouse known as the Ghost Ship caught fire just after 11 p.m. on Dec. 2, 2016, the night of an electronic music party, killing 35 concertgoers and one tenant.

The Ghost Ship Trial

Fire investigators never determined the cause of the blaze.

The prosecution had argued that the actions of Almena, the Ghost Ship's master tenant, and Harris, who has been described as creative director and second-in-command, amounted to criminal negligence. They argued the warehouse was illegally converted into an unsafe living space with complete disregard for safety, violating nine fire codes.

The defense pointed to testimony by many former tenants and visitors who said they felt the Ghost Ship was safe.

The defense also argued that personnel from several agencies, including Oakland's police and fire departments as well as Child Protective Services, had passed through the warehouse dozens of times in the years leading up to the fire and had never flagged the building, never red-tagged it or issued any eviction notices.

The new jury will resume their second day of deliberations. The court has already received six notes from six different jurors, which will be dealt with in court Tuesday morning.

KQED's Don Clyde contributed to this report.