Court watchers have been anticipating some drama from putting Ghost Ship fire defendant Derick Almena on the witness stand, and that drama began on Wednesday almost as soon as cross examination by prosecutors began.
Almena was questioned Monday and Tuesday by his own attorney, the flamboyant Tony Serra, during which time he attempted to shift blame for the fire and unsafe conditions in the warehouse to building owner Chor Ng. He also accused several prosecution witnesses of lying, including Oakland police Officer Bryant Ocampo, and Oakland Acting Assistant Fire Marshal Maria Sabatini, whom he said had been inside the warehouse space when he'd reported an arson of a couch on the sidewalk — Sabatini had testified that she had never been inside the building before the fire.
But on Wednesday, prosecutor Autrey James began cross-examining Almena in what ABC 7 describes as "testy exchanges." Almena testified that he believed it was the landlord's responsibility to seek permits for the construction of things like the makeshift bathroom, kitchen, or stairway that he built in the space. And he became especially combative, reportedly, when asked about an incident that has been reported on previously in which one of his children found a used condom in the space after a New Year's Eve party in 2015 — an incident that led directly or indirectly to he and his wife temporarily losing custody of their children to Child Protective Services.
Outside the courtroom, Serra, told reporters that this line of questioning amounted to "character assassination," and it was a private matter that did not pertain to this case.
KQED reports that prosecutors questioned Almena about whether he had lied to police officers about whether people lived in the building. Almena testified that the landlord's son, Kai Ng, had instructed him to lie to the police if he was ever asked about this.
The jury was dismissed for the day in order that Almena could be shown video of certain incidents in order to refresh his memory.
Almena is expected to sit for more cross-examination Thursday, and it's unclear how much longer he will be testifying, or if the defense has any other witnesses to call.
The trial was originally expected to wrap up this month.
Photo: Lake County Sheriff's Office