Ghost Ship juror speaks after controversial verdict

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Millard Billings was an alternate juror for the Ghost Ship trial. After months of sitting and watching and listening, he never expected to deliberate over the case.

"I sat there for months and I listened to this trial, which was incredibly interesting, incredibly informational," said Billings. "But then they took us (the alternates) to lunch and told us to go home and have a nice day."

RELATED: Ghost Ship Fire Verdict: Max Harris acquitted, released from jail, mistrial for Derick Almena due to hung jury

But on Aug. 19, three jurors were dismissed, and he was called back to court.

By that point, the original jury had spent weeks deliberating and had to start all over again when Billings and the other two alternates arrived. He said the group was polite and engaged, but at times it was contentious.

"This case was very complex," said Billings. "I was very frustrated because I felt there were a couple of people on the jury that immediately made up their minds."

On the day of the verdict, he felt it was likely that the jury could be hung for both Derek Almena's conviction and Max Harris's acquittal.

Two days before the announcement, one juror said she wouldn't allow the rest of them to acquit Harris.

"We talked to her, she was very nice, very reasonable," said Billings. "And finally at the last minute she said 'Okay, I will join the other 11.'"

Ghost Ship Timeline: How the investigation into the deadly fire unfolded

Billings has been on two juries in his lifetime, both of them resulted in mistrials. After his experience, he thinks it's near impossible to get 12 people to agree on anything. In the case of Almena, 10 jurors felt he was guilty while two felt he was not guilty. It came down to two arguments. One from a strict legal basis, the other moral, implicating the warehouse's owner Chor Ng.

"They argued because the Ngs collected the rent, and the Ngs collected the utility bills, the Ngs knew it was illegal. But because they all go on it was a tacit agreement that what he was doing okay," said Billings.

Families of the victims of the warehouse fire that killed 36 people are filing a civil lawsuit against the Ngs, along with the city of Oakland, the Oakland Fire Department, PG&E and others.

The prosecution met with jurors after the verdict was announced, asking about the strength of their case.

Max Harris was released from Santa Rita jail Thursday evening. Derek Almena remains there in custody. He will return to court on October 4th when a hearing will be held about a possible retrial.
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