Ghost Ship owners appear in court for first time since deadly fire, refuse to answer questions

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For the first time since a deadly fire killed 36 people at a party, two members of the family who own the Ghost Ship warehouse appeared in court with their lawyer on Thursday to face questioning by defense attorneys and prosecutors.

The warehouse owner's daughter, Eva Ng, and son, Kai Ng, took to the witness stand. Both brother and sister asserted their Fifth Amendment privilege, refusing to answer a single question regarding the Ghost Ship warehouse, the fire or other business and financial dealings. They were asked questions regarding the warehouse, a lease, their knowledge of who was living there, and the upgrades made prior to the party and fire on December 2, 2016 that killed three dozen people.

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Their mother, Chor Ng, who is listed as the building owner, did not show up to court. Defense lawyers have said she fled to China. KTVU is the only media outlet that has ever questioned Chor Ng in person, but even then, she refused to speak in September 2017.

After court on Thursday, 2 Investigates also tried to question Eva Ng regarding her appearance at the procedural court hearing, where a judge will determine what evidence the jury will be allowed to hear during trial. But she too refused to answer questions. 

Currently, a gag order is in place preventing any witnesses, attorneys or those associated with the case to talk outside of court.

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The master-tenant of the Ghost Ship, Derick Almena, and the creative director Max Harris, are the only two people to date to be charged in connection with the fire. Both men face 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter. Their trial officially began Monday, but procedural motions are still being addressed and a jury isn’t expected to be seated until the end of the month. 

After Eva and Kai Ng left the courtoom, defense attorneys representing the two men passionately pleaded with Alameda County Judge Trina Thompson to compel the testimony of the warehouse owners.

“The Ngs owned this warehouse, made all of the money,” Harris’ attorney Curtis Briggs said. “[The Ngs] received $3 million off the burning of the warehouse and have the most intimate knowledge of upgrading the electrical system with subpar equipment. It is central to our defense.”

Defense attorneys also pushed prosecutors to offer the Ngs "use immunity," which would allow them to testify at the criminal trial for Almena and Harris without having their testimony used against them in other cases.

The prosecution said it does not want to offer them use immunity because it is still investigating the case and hasn't ruled out the possibility of filing criminal charges against them at a later date. As a result, the defense cannot force the owners to answer questions at trial.

“They’re not acting in good faith,” Almena’s attorney Tony Serra said. “They’re trying to block us!”

Thompson requested the defense make its argument and submit it to the court, to which prosecutors will respond. She is anticipating hearing the motion again late next week.

At least 80 potential jurors are expected to show up Monday to the courthouse and fill out questionnaires. No spectators will be allowed in the courtroom, including the victims’ families. Judge Thompson mentioned that opening statements may have to be pushed off unti May, depending on how long it takes to resolve the debate over the Ngs testimony and other motions.

“This trial is going to be long,”  Thompson said. “We’re not going to do a speed train, bullet train to justice.”

KTVU's Candice Nguyen contributed to this report.