Jury to begin deliberations Wednesday in Vaughn prison murder trial

Roman Shankaras

WILMINGTON — No verdict followed Tuesday’s Vaughn prison murder trial closing arguments involving a correctional officer’s death two years ago,

Inmate Roman Shankaras, 32, was charged with first-degree murder and other felonies associated with Lt. Stephen Floyd’s death during a violent takeover on Feb. 1, 2017.

For 3 1/2 hours (including breaks), attorneys addressed the jury, alternately depicting Shankaras as either an uprising mastermind or non-participant later duped into writing two “kites” (prison letters) indicating his guilt.

Shankaras was indicted on kidnapping, assault, riot and conspiracy charges, one of 18 inmates were charged for supposed roles in the roughly 18-hour uprising and standoff. Two other COs were seriously injured and the C building’s counselor held captive before law enforcement subdued the rebelling inmates.

While prosecutors acknowledged little physical evidence existed, they said enough corroborated witness statements illustrated Shankaras’s lead role in planning and executing the action.

“This was never about DNA,” Deputy Attorney General Brian Robertson said. “All this was going to (be based) on interviews of the people there.”

Defense attorney Patrick Collins cited conflicting testimonies during seven full days of a trial that covered 16 days at the New Castle County Courthouse. He claimed inmate Royal Downs and two other inmates planned, instigated and controlled the upheaval.

“(Roman Shankaras) was roadkill on Royal Downs’s highway to get our of trouble,” Mr. Collins said, portraying the defendant as copying letters received from Downs that turned the ensuing police investigation toward him.

Mr. Collins described Downs as a “self-serving, manipulative con artist” who “could sell ice to Eskimos.”

“Also, (Shankaras) is not (Godfather) Vito Corleone sitting in a dark room issuing orders,” Mr. Collins said.

Deputy Attorneys General John Downs and Robertson painted Shankaras as heading a leadership counsel that oversaw the riot and received updates from others in his cell. At one point, the prosecution said, the defendant instructed inmate “soldiers” to spray and bash Lt. Floyd with a fire extinguisher to hasten his death.

Mr. Downs opined that while Shankaras did not commit assault himself he was culpable due to accomplice liability.

Following instructions from Superior Court Judge William C. Carpenter Jr. at 3 p.m., the jury opted to retire for the day.

Deliberations begin today at 9:30 a.m.

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