OAKLAND (CBS SF) — A jury of nine women and three men will determine the fate of the two defendants accused of 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter for the deadly fire during an illegal music party at an Oakland warehouse in 2016.
The jury was finalized on Monday and the trial of Ghost Ship warehouse master tenant Derick Almena and creative director Max Harris was expected to finally begin with opening statements Tuesday in Alameda County Superior Court.
Judge Trina Thompson believes prosecutors may finish presenting their case by late May, at which time the defense would begin presenting its case.
She loosely estimates that the trial will take a total of several months but in case it lasts longer than that she has already scheduled breaks in the case in late August and in October to accommodate the schedules of the parties in the case.
Almena defense attorney Tony Serra told reporters outside the courtroom that he was happy with the composition of the panel.
“We are delighted in the jury that was selected,” he said. “It’s a beautiful cross section of all races, dominated by women — nine women. We have age, we have the wisdom of older people. We have the exuberance of and the idealism of young people. It’s a rainbow, it’s a coalition. We are very appreciative that we got such a fine jury.”
COMPLETE COVERAGE: Deadly Ghost Ship Warehouse Fire
Plenty of emotion was expected in the courtroom as family members of those who died are expected to attend.
Alameda County prosecutors allege that Almena and Harris are criminally responsible for the blaze because guests and residents at the warehouse were endangered by its makeshift electrical system and floor-to-ceiling load of pianos, wooden sculptures, pallets, motor campers, rugs, benches, tree limbs and tapestries.
Prosecutors 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.
But defense lawyers allege that the people most responsible for the fire are the warehouse’s owners and Oakland firefighters and police officers who they say knew about the dangers there and didn’t take action to remedy them.