‘I was stunned’: Ghost Ship defense attorney addresses Harris’ acquittal

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SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) — An attorney for Max Harris, one of the two men accused in the deadly Oakland Ghost Ship warehouse fire, said he was stunned after Harris’ acquittal Thursday afternoon.

Attorney Tyler Smith sat down with KRON4’s Michelle Kingston in an interview Friday and detailed what he was thinking leading up to the verdict.

“We were both stunned,” Smith said. “And maybe we shouldn’t have been, but we were both stunned. When we were sitting together at lunch during the lunch break at about 12 noon, we got an email from the court clerk that there was a verdict and it would be read at 2 p.m.”

Smith’s client was acquitted on all charges after a months-long trial.

Harris and co-defendant Derick Almena were accused in the warehouse fire that left 36 people dead on Dec. 2, 2016.

Smith said throughout the trial he was confident the jury was looking at the evidence very carefully.

“I knew we had the facts and the evidence on our side, so I really haven’t been nervous throughout the trial and throughout the deliberations, it was just that body language. We don’t have much to go off [with the jurors,]” he said.

He said body language from a couple jurors in the time before the verdict was read made him have doubts, despite confidence throughout the trial.

“I was stunned, but I just want to reiterate that leading up to that point when I saw that juror, I was confident,” Smith said. “I was very confident in the jury, I knew they were looking at everything with a microscope and that they were very careful.”

When the not guilty verdict was read Thursday afternoon, he said Harris was choking up tears.

“I was holding them back, Curt [Briggs] was choking up, Max was choking up,” Smith said.

Smith said after the verdict, the judge addressed Harris, making reference to that he’s now a free man.

“He broke down a little bit,” the defense attorney said.

The jury was undecided on Almena and did not reach a verdict, causing a mistrial.

He returns to court in October.

Harris was released from jail Thursday night.

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