(PM) — A jury on Thursday cleared one man of involuntary manslaughter but could not enter a verdict for the leader of an artists’ commune indicted of turning a San Francisco Bay Area warehouse into a cluttered labyrinth that trapped 36 partygoers during a fast-moving inferno.
Cries and gasps emitted from family and friends of the victims who have packed the courtroom for the emotional three-month trial. Relatives had disputed a plea agreement last year that would have imprisoned both men for several years, saying the sentences were too lenient.
Jurors acquitted Max Harris, 29, but said they could not unanimously agree on whether to convict or acquit Derick Almena, 49, of involuntary manslaughter after deliberating since Aug. 26.
“Jurors are hopelessly deadlocked. I must declare a mistrial,” Alameda County Superior Court Judge Trina Thompson announced.
Harris, who faced 39 years in prison, hugged his attorney. Almena remains in custody.
The December 2016 fire burst out during an electronic music party at a warehouse in Oakland called the Ghost Ship. The building was crowded with furniture, extension cords, and other flammable material, but had only two exits and no smoke detectors, fire alarms or sprinklers, prosecutors maintain.
The blaze killed 36, several young people who were confined on the building’s illegally-built second floor. Prosecutors stated the victims got no warning and had scarce chance to escape down a narrow, ramshackle staircase.