Judge: Inmate dropped from prison riot trial

WILMINGTON — Roman Shankaras, one of 18 inmates charged in connection with the deadly Vaughn prison riot last year, will continue his trial later this year due to a “deteriorating relationship” with his lawyer.

When the jurors entered the courtroom Tuesday Judge William C. Carpenter Jr. informed them that Shankaras’ case was being separated from the three other inmates currently on trial.

The judge noted that although the reasons for the separation weren’t relevant to the current trial, Shankaras’ relationship with defense attorney Jason Antoine had “deteriorated” to a point where it was affecting the trial.

The sudden change in representation is thought to be the cause of a delay that postponed the trial Monday.

Sixteen inmates are facing murder charges related to the riot and, along with two other prisoners, are also looking at kidnapping, conspiracy and rioting charges. The inmates are being tried in five separate groups before Judge William C. Carpenter Jr. at the New Castle County Court House. The first group, currently standing trial, now consists of Dwayne Staats, Jarreau Ayers and Deric Forney, all accused of three counts of first-degree murder.

Staats and Ayers have opted to defend themselves with the assistance of state-appointed counsel. Forney is being represented by attorney Ben Gifford.

Roman Shankaras

Judge Carpenter stressed to the jurors that they should dismiss opening statements and other comments made by Mr. Antoine during the course of the trial. Reminding the jury that although the defendants are being tried together, the judge told the jury to continue considering their cases separately.

Of the inmates currently standing trial, the stakes are particularly high for Shankaras. Absent the events of Feb. 1 2017, riot, he’d have likely been a free man.

Originally serving time for robbery, he was convicted of “riot, intent to prevent or coerce official action” back in 2012, according to DOC spokeswoman Jayme Gravell. Shankaras was scheduled for release last April, but is currently being held on “detentioner” charges in connection with the riot charges.

If convicted of the crimes he’s currently charged with, he faces a life sentence.

Shankaras being dropped from the ongoing trial comes at a pivotal point in the proceedings. Inmate Royal Downs, described by the defense several times as the state’s “star witness” took the stand originally last Friday, and again on Tuesday to give his testimony. Downs himself stands accused of the kidnapping, conspiracy and rioting charges and is the only inmate of the 18 to have plead guilty.

Tuesday morning started with Downs being questioned by the prosecution. He claimed to have been aware of a planned “peaceful demonstration” prior to the riot. After witnessing masked inmates storm C Building (the site of the riot) and overhearing correctional officer Lt. Steven Floyd screaming “code one” (assault on an officer), Downs alleges that he tried to get involved in hopes of peacefully resolving the situation.

Claiming that he assisted with negotiations, Downs cast himself as someone with considerable clout among fellow inmates who intervened only to “save lives.” Lt. Floyd was later found dead on Feb. 2, 2017 when law enforcement sieged the building.

In the afternoon, Ayers and Staats had the opportunity to begin their cross-examination. Their questions advanced the assertion that Downs was instead an active participant in the riot and that he has systematically deceived the prosecution and investigators in hopes of gaining leniency.

Cross-examination continues this morning.

 

Reach staff writer Ian Gronau at igronau@newszap.com

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