A jury of nine women and three men was finalized Monday in the trial of accused Ghost Ship fire suspects Derick Almena and Max Harris, and opening statements from the prosecution and defense are set to take place Tuesday and Wednesday.
Almena defense attorney Tony Serra gave some characteristically colorful remarks to reporters on his way out of court Monday. As KPIX/CBS SF reports, Serra said, "We are delighted in the jury that was selected. It’s a beautiful cross section of all races, dominated by women — nine women. We have age, we have the wisdom of older people. We have the exuberance of and the idealism of young people. It’s a rainbow, it’s a coalition."
Almena and Harris stand accused of negligence and the creation of the dangerous situation that led to the December 2, 2016 inferno that claimed the lives of 36 people — 35 who were attending a concert there that night, and one who was a resident of the warren of rooms Almena and Harris had helped to construct on the warehouse's ground floor as artists' studios.
Prosecutors will argue that both men are criminally responsible for building the tinder box of scrap wood, tree branches, rugs, and musical instruments, and the makeshift electrical wiring leading to the upstairs performance space, all of which contributed to the blaze.
We can expect Harris' defense attorney, Curtis Briggs, to try to distance him from responsibility for the build-out, and to argue that he was under the sway of the powerful personality of Almena.
Prosecutors have argued that the terms "cover-up" and "scapegoat" should not be used by the defense — who are expected to shift blame to both the city and landlord of the building. The defense argued that terms "tinder box," "fire trap," and "death trap" should not be used. As KQED reports, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Trina Thompson ruled that these terms couldn't be used during opening statements, but they could be used, with objections, during trial.
The trial is expected to last up to 18 weeks, though Judge Thompson has already built in breaks in August and October to accommodate different parties should the trial last longer.