Eye-opening and frustrating.
That’s how Millard Billings, a juror in the Ghost Ship trial, described what it was like to decide the fate of Derick Almena and Max Harris.
Billings is a retired high school teacher. He said even though the judge told the jury to put aside their emotions, Billings couldn’t help but sympathize with the 36 families who lost their sons and daughters.
And on Thursday, Billings wept in court.
“As we walked out of the courtroom, after the verdict was given, I was the one that was crying,” Billings said.
The Castro Valley resident started out as one of the four alternates on the Ghostship Trial. He sat through more than three months of testimony, some of it so heart-wrenching that Billings had made up his mind by the end of the trial.
“I went in thinking that they were both going to be guilty because I was so sympathetic to the parents,” Billings said.
Once the case was handed to the jury, Billings went back home and put the trial behind him. Then came the call last month: the judge had booted off three women from the jury and they needed him to fill one of the empty seats.
“The longer I saw those two kind of sad looking guys sitting there, and I saw those parents sitting there, I thought no one is going to win in this thing,” Billings said.
Billings reveals the jury was very close to being hung on Max Harris.
“It came down to 11 to 1 and we were going to be hung on Max Harris,” Billings said.
After a week-long break, the last juror agreed that Harris should be acquitted, Billings said. But when it came to Almena, Billings said two women believed he did not deserve the blame and refused to change their minds.
“She was convinced that it was the city — or someone else that was to blame,” Billings said.
Defense Attorney Tony Serra, who continues to represent Almena, said he hugged one of those women when she left the courthouse on Thursday.
“I said, ‘Thank you. Thank you for being so strong,'” Serra said.
Billings said after the verdict was announced, prosecutors told him this was the toughest case of their careers.
This post was originally posted at http://www.nbcbayarea.com/news/local/Juror-Discusses-Emotional-Heart-Wrenching-Trial-559621261.html.