Two witnesses who testified Monday in the Ghost Ship fire trial are the keys to the defense's hail-mary theory that mysterious arsonists were to blame for the deadly December 2, 2016 blaze.
KQED continues its dogged day-by-day coverage of the trial, and Monday brought a couple of the more colorful defense witnesses in the case. We learned on Friday that witness Sharon Evans was airing her testimony first without the jury present, giving prosecutors an opportunity to argue against some of its admissibility as hearsay — she is essentially testifying to what she heard someone else say. And KQED reports that Monday was Evans' big day on the stand, offering her story to the jury of being outside the warehouse at a taco truck when she witnessed a group of "14 to 19" Latino men run out of the building appearing "happy" about the fire that had just begun.
"I heard them repeat that no one was gonna make it out of the building alive," Evans testified.
But Evans' testimony is undercut by all the investigators of the fire, who while they did not make a conclusive decision about the fire's cause, have all said that there was no evidence of arson. And Evans herself made different statements to investigators about how many men she saw (it was originally seven to ten), and in court Monday she referred to them as "Spaniards," and then corrected herself to say they were "Mexican-American" and "possibly some type of gang." She also claims she didn't immediately come forward to authorities, instead waiting weeks after the fire, because she allegedly feared for her life, as KQED reports.
Further, Evans had originally told investigators she heard the men saying something about putting wood inside the building — already a spurious idea given how much wood was already inside. And under cross-examination, Evans said she witnessed smoke coming out of the building and saw the men exiting the building around 9:30 or 9:45 p.m. — she has said she was getting tacos with a friend after attending a church service that night. The fire is known to have begun after 11 p.m. Evans also said she circled the block "20 times" after witnessing smoke coming out of the warehouse, saying she wondered why it took firefighters so long to arrive. This claim is also spurious because, as the battalion chief of the firehouse just around the corner has testified, they were out the door before a second call arrived for the fire, within 30 seconds of the first call.
Per the Chronicle, a second witness for the defense, Ghost Ship tenant Michael Russell, vaguely corroborates Evans' account in that he says he saw a couple of men in dark clothing fleeing from the rear of the warehouse just as the fire began. Russell testified Monday that he heard a scuffle, or some sort of significant fight, from inside the trailer he was living in, housed in the rear of the warehouse, near where the fire is believed to have broken out. He looked outside the trailer after someone shouted "Fire!" and saw the men running toward the front exit.
Russell relays one of the more bizarre details of the scene however, involving a woman who may have been drugs standing at the foot of the stairs. Russell describes a woman in a red beanie and green dress who was shouting up to the event-goers, "This is the will of the spirit of the forest. Don’t come down the stairs, there’s a fire."
It is safe to assume that this woman, if that testimony is true, had no connection to any alleged arsonists, right? We need to keep in mind that the people attending this electronic music party were in it for the long haul — some were just arriving at 11 p.m., and at least one headlining act was scheduled to go on at 6 a.m.
Parents of victims who have been attending the trial have already outright dismissed Evans' testimony as implausible. As David Gregory, father of 20-year-old Michela Gregory, told the Chronicle Friday, "I think she is all over the place. She’s not credible. She’s lying. I don’t know what she’s trying to get out of this."
Brian Hough, father of fire victim Trevor Hough, tells KQED, "My son and 35 other people died because of the negligence of having a firetrap."
Defense attorney Tony Serra told reporters Monday that Evans "embodies our defense."