Three Ghost Ship fire trial jurors have opened up about what exactly happened with those dismissals, and the tensions that lasted through the final day of deliberations over whether to convict Derick Almena.
Juror Maury Mossman, who became the jury foreman in the final days of deliberations, tells the Chronicle that it was he who wrote the note to Judge Trina Thompson tattling on three jurors who he knew had broken the rules. The decision came on a Monday, Day 10 of deliberations, after one juror — a woman identified as Juror No. 4 — openly admitted to the group that she had spoken about the case to a firefighter friend outside of the court proceedings. The foreman at the time, Juror No. 7, appeared to ignore the infraction, but Mossman says he could not.
Mossman explains that what Juror No. 4's firefighter friend told her was that if an exterior fire alarm was missing from the building, any firefighter on the scene during a 2014 incident involving a couch set ablaze on the sidewalk should have noticed and reported it. The issue of the exterior fire alarm, and that 2014 incident, allegedly took up a fair amount of the jury's deliberation time.
This happened on a Friday, and Mossman says he also heard on the elevator that day another juror, Juror No. 3, say she had received a text message from Juror No. 1 saying, "I grew up homeless and you need to change your vote."
"I thought to myself, that’s definitely got to be reported," Mossman tells the Chronicle.
Thompson would swiftly dismiss all three jurors, Nos. 1, 3, and 4, that Monday — something highly unusual for any trial — replacing them with alternates who had all left the court weeks earlier.
One of those alternates, juror Millard Billings of Castro Valley, also spoke to the Chronicle, saying when he received the call to appear at the courthouse in 30 minutes he thought he was being called to hear the verdict, and he said he wasn't interested.
As we learned earlier, the jury deadlocked over the relative guilt of the landlords, Chor Ng and her children, and Almena, with two jurors insisting that Almena was not criminally negligent.
Mossman says that as deliberations began again with the alternates, two women — jurors 5 and 10 — refused to be swayed from their opinion that other people were at fault for the fire besides Almena, and stuck to their guns to acquit. Mossman compared Juror No. 10's tenacity to "pulling a bone out of a pit bull’s mouth," saying she insisted on Almena's innocence from Day One of deliberations.
Billings tells the paper that the reading of the verdicts last week was incredibly emotional, with the jurors having to face the anguish of the families of the 36 fire victims, who got no satisfying closure in the case. After returning to the jury room, Billings says, many broke down in tears. "Finally, we let go," he said, explaining that everyone kept their emotions bottled up as they weren't allowed to talk to each other about the case.