The lead attorney for Ghost Ship warehouse master tenant Derick Almena is seeking the personal identifying information of jurors in Almena’s first trial to help him prepare for Almena’s second trial next year.
Almena, 49, is charged with 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter for a fire at a music party at the 10,000-square-foot warehouse in the 1300 block of 31st Avenue in Oakland’s Fruitvale district that killed 36 people the night of Dec. 2, 2016.
A lengthy trial for Almena and co-defendant Max Harris, the warehouse’s artistic director, who faced the same charges, ended Sept. 5 with jurors deadlocked 10-2 in favor of convicting Almena and acquitting Harris of all charges.
Harris was released from custody later that day but Almena remains in custody in lieu of $750,000 bail as he awaits his second trial, which is scheduled to begin March 30.
Almena’s lead attorney Tony Serra wrote in a recently filed motion that there is good cause to release the personal identifying information of the jurors in the first trial because they “have, and may be willing to share, valuable information that would assist defense counsel in preparing for Mr. Almena’s defense at the retrial.”
Serra said, “The fact that jurors in the first trial were unable to reach a unanimous verdict shows there was disagreement among jurors about Mr. Almena’s criminal liability under the law.”
He wrote, “There may have also been confusion among the jurors about the presentation of evidence, culpability under technical legal terms such as criminal negligence, or they may have valuable insight about which witnesses they found to be credible or untruthful, among other things.”
Serra said Almena’s defense team “would benefit significantly by having the opportunity to speak with the jurors about what they felt was most effective in the first trial and what suggestions they may have for the retrial.”
Serra wrote, “There is no compelling reason against disclosing to defense counsel the personal identifying information of the jurors. Defense counsel agrees that they will not disclose any of the jurors’ information to the public.”
The defense lawyer said the information “will be used solely by the defense team for the limited purpose of interviewing them in preparation for the retrial in this matter.”
Prosecutors told jurors in the trial of Almena and Harris that the two men should be found guilty of involuntary manslaughter because they turned the warehouse into a death trap by creating unsafe conditions there, with no fire sprinklers, smoke alarms, lighted exit signs or stairs that were in good condition.
Prosecutors also alleged that Almena started violating the terms of the building’s lease almost immediately after he signed it on Nov. 10, 2013, by allowing up to 25 people to live there even though it was zoned for commercial use, not residential use.
But defense lawyers said firefighters, police officers and Child Protective Service officials who visited the warehouse on multiple occasions never told Almena and Harris that the building was unsafe.
Defense attorneys also said there is evidence that the fire was an act of arson that Almena and Harris could not have prevented.