We're only a week into what's likely to be the months-long manslaughter trial of Ghost Ship proprietor Derick Almena and his second in command Max Harris, and already there appear to have been multiple issues with the jury and contacts being made outside the courtroom.
Back on the first day of opening statements in the case, on April 30, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Trina Thompson said that an individual had tried to make an illegal contact with a juror during the lunch break, as ABC 7 reported. That juror, or possibly another was reportedly replaced with an alternate, as SF Weekly reported, because of illegal communications about the trial.
On Wednesday, Thompson said that while she likes to maintain an open courtroom policy, she will close the courtroom to the public and the media if she has to, citing ongoing issues with the jury.
As Bay City News reports, Thompson is having a closed-door hearing with jurors late Thursday afternoon to discuss the seriousness of juror misconduct, and the possibility of having to declare a mistrial and start all over. She will reportedly be asking each juror if they have had any inappropriate communications about the case.
Thompson reportedly admonished the jury not to discuss the case with their spouses, and further said that if they receive information about the case outside the courtroom, they should not share that with other jurors.
It's unclear what incident prompted Thompson to take the step of holding today's closed-door hearing, but she has also said that she will consider sequestering the jury if she must — something that will be pretty burdensome for the jurors given how long the trial is expected to go on. She also warned them that continuing disruptions could lead to the trial dragging on until October.
Last year, defense attorneys for Almena and Harris, Tony Serra and Curtis Briggs, had initially indicated they would file a motion for a change of venue for the case, given the high-profile nature and many local connections to the 36 victims that might exist in the juror pool. But they concluded in October, after some research, that juries in Alameda County tended to be more sympathetic to defendants like theirs than in other localities around the state.
Meanwhile, witnesses for the prosecution continue to take the stand, and on Wednesday jurors heard from Jennifer Turner, a woman who had signed a lease with Almena after answering an ad on Craigslist. As ABC 7 reports, Turner described the interior of the warehouse as like "a psychedelic pirate ship," and she said that she moved out after only a month because she felt the space was unsafe.