Defense says deadly Ghost Ship fire was arson


Thirty-six names. 36 pictures. 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter. That's how Alameda County prosecutor Casey Bates started his opening presentation to the jury Tuesday, showing photos, one by one, of all the victims who died in the Ghost Ship warehouse fire. 

Relatives of the victims packed the courtroom, eager for answers. 

"We've been living on rumors," said  Colleen Dolan, mother of victim Chelsea Dolan. "And what we want to do is find out the truth."

The truth, Bates told the jury of 9 women and 3 men, is that Ghost Ship master tenant Derick Almena leased the warehouse and illegally transformed it into a residential "death trap," while co-defendant Max Harris, the self-described creative director of the art collective, collected the rent. 

When the fire broke out, those inside were doomed because there were  no fire extinguishers, no smoke alarms, no smoke detectors. Some of the windows had bars on them. Those were conditions created by Almena and Harris, Bates said.

"There was no notice of smoke or flame, no time to escape the smoke, there was no adequate exits. No notice. No time. No exits," Bates saisd.

The prosecutor showed text messages from victims who reached out to loved ones before they died. 

One victim wrote, "I'm going to die."

Another wrote, "I love you. Fire."

Outside court, Curtis Briggs, an attorney for Harris says he has new information about the cause of the fire, which authorities have said is undetermined. 

"We have overwhelming evidence from multiple witnesses that this was an arson fire and the prosecution is saying there wasn't enough time, notice or exits for people to leave, and that's exactly what the arsonist intended," Briggs saisd.

Family members of the victims say nothing will bring their loved ones back. But they say they want some kind of justice 

"Reality is finally setting in that it's started and hopefully we can get to a conclusion with a verdict that perhaps is going to be something  we can all live with and accept," said David Gregory, father of victim Michela Gregory.

Briggs told jurors in his opening remarks that the landlords of the building aren't on trial and suggested that they should be. He described his client as not the creative director of the warehouse but instead the "janitor" and a "Cinderella" who acted as a servant, making sure people there were OK and wouldn't be evicted by the Ng family, who were the landlords.

Tony Serra will give his opening statement to the jury on Wednesday morning. The trial will be dark until Monday, as there is no court sessions on Fridays. Judge Trina Thompson has jury duty on Thursday