Closing arguments in the months-long Ghost Ship fire trial began Monday after jurors were given a two-week break. Alameda County prosecutor Autrey James delivered his closing statement to a packed courtroom, as Bay City News reports, with the defense's closing statement likely to begin Tuesday.
The courtroom was over capacity Monday, with 30 people listening in via audio in an overflow room. Closing statements have been scheduled to last at least three days, and the jury is set to begin deliberations next week.
In his closing argument, James suggested that master tenant at the artists' warehouse was made aware multiple times that he should be seeking permits for the alterations he made inside the building, but he ignored these suggestions.
As the East Bay Times reports, James used his closing statement to flash photos of all 36 victims from the fire on a video screen in the courtroom. Speaking of the defendants, James said, "Every minute they were in there, they were criminally negligent." To reach a conclusion of involuntary manslaughter, James said the jury needed to decide if actions by Almena and co-defendant Max Harris were a “substantial factor” in causing those 36 deaths.
Further, he asserted that in Almena's own testimony he "admitted that he made a living off the people who came into that building."
The defense is expected to focus on an arson theory that shifts potential blame to a group of "14 to 19 men" who at least two witnesses claim to have seen and heard leaving the building just before the fire. Family members of the victims, most of whom seem eager to see Almena punished for the fire, have called this theory implausible, and at least one of those witnesses not credible.
Fire inspectors never reached a definitive conclusion about the fire's cause, but overloaded, jerry-rigged electrical wiring had been known to spark in the space, and an old refrigerator in the rear of the building was pinpointed as a possible ignition point.