Inmates contradict their previous testimony in riot trial

WILMINGTON — Inmates Dwayne Staats and Jarreau Ayers provided testimony under oath on Wednesday that directly contradicted statements they gave in their own trials last November.

Staats and Ayers were put on the stand as witnesses for the defense in the ongoing trial to decide the fate of four of the 18 inmates charged with perpetrating the prison riot in 2017 that left Lt. Steven Floyd dead.

Both men stood trial for charges related to the riot late last year. Ayers was found guilty of conspiracy, riot, kidnapping and assault and Staats for all the above plus murder.

Currently on trial, the second in a series of four, are John Bramble, Abednego Baynes, Kevin Berry and Obadiah Miller who are accused of riot, assault, kidnapping, conspiracy and murder.

Both Staats and Ayers were called to testify by Miller’s defense attorney Tony Figliola. Both inmates claimed to have had intimate knowledge of the planned incident and said that all four defendants in the courtroom had nothing to do with it.

For Ayers part, the sworn testimony he gave in November during his own trial — he’d opted to defend himself — painted his participation in the riot mildly. Mostly indicating that he’d been aware that a demonstration would likely take place, but he was unsure about specifics.

“I didn’t know exactly what was going to happen before the riot, but I knew something was going to happen,” Ayers said back in November.

However, the testimony he started giving on Tuesday and finished on Wednesday morning suggested that he was an active planner and “core individual” responsible for planning a demonstration that would be foreseeably violent.

Ayers told the jury that he, Royal Downs and Staats planned a building-wide peaceful protest in which inmates would refuse to come in from the recreation yard when called by the guards. But, if fellow inmates failed to adhere to the plan for fear of consequences, they had a contingency plan in place that involved “taking over the building,” he claimed.

Dwayne Staats

Downs, originally charged with conspiracy, riot, kidnapping and assault, pleaded guilty and has acted as a key witness for the state against many of his co-defendants, including Ayers.

In the first trial, Ayers claimed he was called from the yard along with other inmates by a masked rioter. But, in his testimony on Wednesday he claimed to have returned to the building of his on volition while the initial assault on the guards was taking place.

On cross-examination, Ayers at first tried to say that he omitted details from his first testimony. But, after being pressed he admitted that he lied.

When asked why, Ayers said he needed to come to the defense of “innocent men” being charged with a crime they didn’t commit.

“Me being on this stand today takes every opportunity to ever get out of prison off the table,” said Ayers. “I’m sacrificing everything.”

Ayers has not yet been sentenced in regards to his riot-related convictions.

Already serving a life sentence, it’s unclear what consequences may befall him for the admission that he lied under oath, but it’s likely to affect his ability to appeal convictions.

As for Staats, he maintained during his November trial — also opting to defend himself — that he’d never “assaulted anyone.” But, on Wednesday he said that he hit Lt. Floyd during the initial assault and retrieved his keys.

When pressed about the contradiction, he demurred and claimed that his defense was built to meet the prosecution’s claims and they never supplied a witness that said they saw him hit Lt. Floyd.

However, when Deputy Attorney General John Downs pushed harder, Staats retorted: “To tell the truth, I wasn’t even sworn in, so you can go ahead and say that, buddy.”

The remark drew a hasty sidebar in which prosecutors, defense counsel and Judge William C. Carpenter Jr. conferred.

It wasn’t immediate clear whether or not Staats was officially sworn in during his testimony in November.

To finish off his defense, Miller put himself on the stand to be questioned by Mr. Figliola. Miller claimed to be innocent of the charges.

During his testimony, the 26-year-old Miller made the surprising claim that he’d known Lt. Floyd from his childhood.

“I knew Floyd from when I was a kid — about 22 years ago,” he said. “Him and my mom used to date. He was slimmer back them.”

Living in C Building (the site of the riot) for about eight months prior to the incident, Miller said that Lt. Floyd had made him a tier man (an inmate with janitorial responsibilities for his given cell block).

“Lt. Floyd did the hiring,” he said. “Basically, the correctional officers compartmentalize inmates by their behavior. Based on your behavior, you can be made a tier man if they trust you from a security standpoint.”

He claims to have been selected for the job from a group of 41 other inmates and served in it for about four months.

He said the job came with privileges like a certain measure of autonomy, pay and “good time” served. It’s a position that often draws criticism from other inmates though, he explained.

The bulk of Miller’s testimony rested on illustrating himself as someone with everything to lose. Having served most of his sentence for a manslaughter conviction, he was scheduled to be released this October.

“Why? Why would I do this?” he said from the stand. “I’m about to go home.”

On cross-examination, prosecutors pressed Miller on his relationship with Lt. Floyd, referencing a recorded phone call in January 2017 in which Miller told his mother he “didn’t like Floyd.”

Admitting that it was true that he didn’t like “certain behaviors” of Lt. Floyd’s, Miller insisted that their relationship was one of mutual respect.

Afterward, Miller’s defense rested. During his defense, Baynes also put himself on the stand.

He too claimed to have no involvement with the planning and commission of the riot — saying instead that he was in his cell watching TV during the initial assault on officers.

Baynes’s defense is expected to rest this morning, leaving only Bramble to mount his defense. Closing arguments in the trial are expected in the coming days.

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