On Wednesday, the jury in the Ghost Ship fire trial — which has been ongoing since April — entered their first day of deliberations following closing arguments by prosecutor Autrey James and defense attorneys Curtis Briggs and Tony Serra.
Master tenant at the artists' warehouse 49-year-old Derick Almena and his second-in-command or "creative director," 29-year-old Max Harris, stand accused of involuntary manslaughter on the December 2, 2016 deaths of 36 people. The blaze stands as one of the nation's deadliest structure fires in half a century.
On Monday, James presented a dramatic closing, flashing photos of the 36 victims of the fire before the jury, and describing how most of them died on the second floor "suspended in smoke with the bottleneck of 80 people at the only exit out."
As Chris Allen, who lost a sister in the fire, tells ABC 7, "The way Autrey put it this time about the suspension in smoke, it's not easy to hear."
On Tuesday it was Serra's and Briggs' turn, and the always theatrical — some say flamboyant, some say Phantasm star — Serra, accused the prosecution of having "ulterior motives" in covering for a city that was derelict in its duty on multiple fronts, allowing the illegal warehouse to remain inhabited despite some 35 visits by city agencies over two years, including police and fire department members.
As the East Bay Times reports, Serra further accused Oakland fire inspector Maria Sabatini of perjuring herself on the witness stand, after a defense witness testified that Sabatini had been inside the warehouse in 2014 — something she denied when she testified.
"Reasonable doubt is like one ray of light in a dark sky, illuminating your inferences," Serra said, insisting that there was ample doubt as to his client's guilt.
Both Serra and Briggs returned to their theory of arson, as well. In his closing statement on behalf of Harris, Briggs showed pictures of the seven witnesses who corroborated or supported the theory of arson, and who heard sounds of a fight or commotion in the rear of the building just before the fire broke out, with multiple individuals who ran out a side door.
Per the East Bay Times, Briggs discussed Harris' appearance — a "gangly young man with a blue mohawk" — and how that may have influenced investigators in the early hours after the fire, looking for someone to blame. "What they saw in that moment of sorrow … they saw a reason. They saw the ‘why,’ … they saw someone who didn’t fit into the mold, and they pursued that," Briggs said, per the East Bay Times.
But Serra sounded less than thrilled after the prosecution rested, telling ABC 7 on camera Tuesday afternoon, "The way I view it now, we're neck and neck."
Serra also told the station on Monday, in reference to James' closing statement, "Those are the situations most fraught with [the] possibility of miscarriage of justice. When the prosecutor is too eloquent, and he was."
For those just catching up, ABC 7 also has a complete timeline of how the case has unfolded after the fire. As some may recall, this case never would have gone to trial were it not for some awkwardly disingenuous-sounding statements Almena made in a sentencing hearing last summer, following a plea deal — leading the judge to reject the plea deal at the last minute.