OAKLAND (CBS SF) — Defense attorneys decided Monday to drop plans to ask for a change in venue for the trial of two men charged with 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter in the deadly Ghost Ship Warehouse fire.
Tony Serra, the attorney who is representing defendant Derick Almena, said a statistical phone survey done by his office showed an Alameda County jury would be fair.
“As you know before we file for a change of venue, we do a statistical survey to ascertain the potential jury pool’s attitude,” he told reporters outside court Monday. “We ascertained that the juries here in Alameda are more favorable to our cause than other counties.”
“So we want a trial here in Alameda. We want a judge from Alameda. We want a jury from Alameda.”
Co-defendant Max Harris’ legal team agreed with Serra.
“Both teams have decided we can (get a fair trial in Alameda),” said attorney Curtis Briggs.
He added that many people interviewed by phone shared the defense teams view that Almena and Harris “were scapegoats.”
“About 13 percent of the people interviewed specifically said that (they were scapegoats),” Briggs told reporters. “I think people see this prosecution for what it is. A very misguided attempt at deflecting blame from the bureaucracy which caused it.”
Almena, 48, and Harris, 28, were the Ghost Ship’s master tenant and creative director, respectively.
The next date for the lawyers in court will be on Nov. 9th when a previous judge’s rejection of a plea agreement will be again debated.
Thirty-six victims between the ages of 17 and 61 died of smoke inhalation in the fire during a music party at the warehouse at 1309 31st Ave. on Dec. 2, 2016.
Prosecutors allege that guests and residents were endangered by the warehouse’s makeshift electrical system and floor-to-ceiling load of pianos, wooden sculptures, pallets, motor campers, rugs, benches, tree limbs and tapestries.
They also say the warehouse had no city permits for residency or for the concerts and shows that were held there and allege that Almena and Harris knowingly created a fire trap with inadequate means of escape.