OAKLAND (KRON) — One of two men blamed for a warehouse fire that killed 36 people in Oakland two years ago got the chance to testify in court.
Max Harris, who faces involuntary manslaughter charges along with Derick Almena, took the witness stand Monday in his own defense.
Harris is accused of illegally converting the Ghost Ship warehouse into an artist live-work space where the fire broke out in December 2016.
Prosecutors also say Harris collected rent and booked unpermitted concerts at the warehouse.
Harris told a jury Monday that he helped maintain the building in exchange for free rent but insisted he was never in control of its operation.
KRON4’s Michelle Kingston described his demeanor as confident, calm, likable, and well-spoken.
A lot of people showed up to watch Harris testify. It was the first time the judge opened the overflow room.
Harris testified that he began living in the warehouse after it had already been occupied by a number of renters.
He described the Ghost Ship as an artist enclave where all residents lived communally, filled it with furniture and artwork, and said that nobody was fully in charge.
He said he has no assets and laughed when asked if he has business cards, checkbooks or paychecks that say executive or creative director on them.
Harris called Almena a friend, roommate and somewhat of a mentor.
Harris’ lawyers say he was made a scapegoat for the tragedy.
Both men pleaded no contest to 36 counts of manslaughter last summer, but a judge scuttled the plea deal after victims’ families objected to the sentences as too lenient.
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