A jury in Oakland, California, on Thursday found defendant Max Harris not guilty on all counts in the 2016 Ghost Ship fire, and delivered a hung jury for the second defendant, Derick Almena. Harris and Almena were accused of 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter for the horrifying warehouse fire that killed 36 people in December 2016. Almena and Harris, who served as the artist collective’s master tenant and artistic director, respectively, together faced up to 39 years in state prison. The two men were accused of inadvertently causing the deadly fire through negligent upkeep of the warehouse that served as an unofficial nightclub, art studio, and housing to many of Oakland’s artistic community. What looked like any other warehouse from the outside, was bursting with elaborate spaces and narrow passageways that proved largely inescapable when the fire broke out during an electronic music show.
The verdicts come after nearly three years of agony for the victim’s families, and a tumultuous trial that saw three jurors dismissed after 10 days of deliberation last month. The jury was then forced to restart deliberation with alternates. After an additional five days, that group of jurors then made a last-minute request to hear testimony from Oakland Fire Captain George Freelen, who testified that Almena told him in 2014 no one lived in the warehouse. After hearing Freelen’s testimony once again Thursday morning, the jury finally emerged later that day. The verdict took an hour to read, as a determination for each of the 36 lives lost had to be read aloud.