OAKLAND (KPIX) — For more than five months, the friends and family members of the 36 people who died in the Ghost Ship warehouse fire crowded an Alameda County courtroom, hoping for some accountability as the trial against the men accused in the fire wore on.
When the verdict came down Thursday — an acquittal of Max Harris and a hung jury for master tenant Derick Almena — there were audible gasps in court followed by tears. Outside, grief gave way to anger.
“I lost my son because of this and this is what happens?” asked an emotional Mary Vega whose son Alex died with his girlfriend in the fire.
“I’m mad. I’m just upset,” she continued. “For the jury to come back with this — it’s just frustrating.
David Gregory’s daughter Michela died in the fire. He could not hold back his disappointment as he left the courthouse.
“There’s a man walking out there that should be in jail right now,” he said, referring to Harris. “He was willing to take a plea deal for six, years, OK? You tell me if that’s not a guilty person.”
Judy Hough said she simply wanted someone to be held responsible for the death of her son Travis.
“Having someone else suffer is not going to make me happy,” she admitted. “I just wanted some accountability.”
Brian Getz, an attorney for Almena, became emotional as he described speaking to Almena after the verdict was announced.
“There was the most unspeakable loss of life,” Getz said tearfully. “So, while he’s happy to be unconvicted, he’s very unhappy when he thinks about what happened.”
The families said they will now prepare to return to court in October for a possible retrial for Almena.
“I think it’s going to be painful again,” Hough said. “It’s like the thing that never ends.”