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Jury Begins Deliberations In 'Ghost Ship' Fire Trial

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

A jury has begun deliberations in the trial of two men charged with 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter in a warehouse fire in Oakland, Calif. Here's Don Clyde of our member station KQED.

DON CLYDE, BYLINE: On the night of December 2, 2016, a fire broke out in a warehouse art collective called the Ghost Ship. It left three dozen people dead. The prosecution argued the two men who ran the makeshift residence, Derick Almena and Max Harris, are guilty of criminal negligence. Prosecutors say they illegally converted the warehouse into a living space with total disregard for safety. Prosecutor Autrey James said in closing arguments the victims had no chance to escape when the fire broke out the night of an electronic music party.

The prosecutors did not speak to the media, but the defense attorneys did. Tyler Smith represents defendant Max Harris. He presented evidence that the fire was an act of arson, which the prosecution disputed.

TYLER SMITH: They all saw it. They all heard from these witnesses. They know what the evidence is. If the DA wants to try and pull the wool over their eyes and say, hey, no, there was no evidence of arson - you didn't hear anything - you know, I think that's going to ultimately work against him.

CLYDE: The defense also offered testimony from former residents who said the warehouse was safe. Throughout the trial, victims' relatives have been in court. One of them was Ashley Lanier. Her brother, Travis Hough, died in the fire.

ASHLEY LANIER: I just hope that these men are found as guilty as they are for the neglect of the lives that could have been, should have been.

CLYDE: If convicted, each defendant could face up to 39 years in prison. For NPR News, I'm Don Clyde in Oakland. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.