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Acquittal, Hung Jury in Oakland ‘Ghost Ship’ Fire

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An emotionally taxing criminal case over the deaths of 36 people trapped inside a San Francisco area warehouse nearly three years ago will continue after a jury acquitted one defendant and deadlocked on the other, the Associated Press reports. Jurors deliberated over two weeks before they acquitted Max Harris on Thursday of involuntary manslaughter and could not agree on whether to convict or acquit Derick Almena. The men were accused of filling a warehouse in Oakland with so much clutter that it trapped people at an electronic music party in 2016. Almena, 49, and Harris, 29, had pleaded no contest to manslaughter and were set to be sentenced last year to nine and six years in prison, respectively. A judge threw out their pleas after many victims’ families objected.

“I’m in shock,” said David Gregory, whose 20-year-old daughter Michela perished in the fast-moving fire. “We were hoping for justice, but we didn’t get justice today.” Michela Gregory and her boyfriend, Alex Vega, died when fire roared through the so-called Ghost Ship warehouse, which had been illegally converted into a live-work space for artists and held parties and other events. The building was packed with furniture, extension cords and other flammable material but had only two exits and no smoke detectors, fire alarms or sprinklers, prosecutors say. The blaze killed many young people trapped on the illegally constructed second floor. Prosecutors said the victims received no warning and had little chance to escape down a narrow, ramshackle staircase. Most jurors wanted to find Almena guilty, but two jurors disagreed.

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