Request for Vaughn inmate mistrial denied

WILMINGTON — Ben Gifford, an attorney defending inmate Deric Forney in the ongoing Vaughn prison riot trial, told Judge William C. Carpenter Jr. he was “moving toward a mistrial” during a sidebar on Thursday.

Judge Carpenter quickly and firmly denied the request.

The request was prompted by the prosecution’s objection to Mr. Gifford’s cross-examination of their inmate eyewitness Melvin Williams.

Forney is one of the 16 inmates who are facing murder charges and, along with two other prisoners, are also looking at kidnapping, conspiracy and rioting charges.

Recent testimony from eyewitness inmates has begun to take on a back-and-forth formula in the trial. Prosecutors begin with the inmates by having them recall what they witnessed during the riot and have them identify who they believed to be part of the riot — via mugshots — and explain specifically what they observed each perpetrator doing. Then on cross-examination, the defense, with fairly consistent success, seeks to undermine each testimony by pointing out inconsistencies between what the inmate said in court versus the transcripts of earlier statements given to investigators.

A common tactic the defense has used is suggesting that the inmates were either coerced or persuaded into testifying in hopes that they’d gain leniency in their respective sentences.

Mr. Gifford was trying this tactic on Thursday with Mr. Williams grilling him repeatedly on what, if anything, the prosecution had offered him in exchange for his testimony in the trial.

Deputy attorney general John Downs objected to the line of questioning.

“Mr. Gifford is trying to suggest the state is trying to do something under the table — it’s inappropriate,” he said.

Judge Carpenter temporarily removed the jury to hear each side’s concerns. Mr. Gifford said he wanted to move for a mistrial because his questions, which he feels are legitimate, have been deemed out of bounds.

“My questions have been repeatedly called inappropriate, and it’s not the first time, in front of the jury — the optics are bad,” said Mr. Gifford.

The judge forcefully denied the request, demanding the Mr. Gifford ask relevant questions, and promptly move on once the witness provides their answer. He dismissed the notion that the defense was being treated unfairly.

“You feel that you’ve been inappropriately chastened, but it’s just not the case,” said Judge Carpenter.

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