Second trial for prison riot begins Monday

WILMINGTON — After a protracted criminal investigation 18 inmates were charged with perpetrating the Feb. 1, 2017, riot at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center that left Lt. Steven Floyd dead and several other DOC staff members brutally beaten and traumatized.
Charges were filed in October 2017. Sixteen of the inmates were charged with riot, murder, assault, kidnapping and conspiracy and two were charges with all the above except murder.
Since then, one has pleaded guilty to all charges, one killed himself while awaiting trial, two have been found guilty and one has been acquitted of all charges.
The 13 remaining inmates were separated into three more groups, each group to be tried separately.
The next trial is set to start on Monday before Judge William C. Carpenter Jr. in the New Castle County Superior Court — barring an inclement weather cancellation.
As of Friday, a jury of 12 had been selected along with six alternate jurors.
The court has had to estimate how long each trial will take in order to build a timetable. The third group’s trial is scheduled to start March 11 and the fourth group’s on May 5.
The first trial, which wrapped up in November, took about five weeks from opening arguments to verdicts.
The first three inmates to stand trial, Dwayne Staats, Jarreau Ayers and Deric Forney, were handed their verdicts on Nov. 20 last year.

Steven Floyd

The jury found Dwayne Staats guilty of all charges except for intentional first-degree murder, Jarreau Ayers guilty of all charges except the three murder counts and Deric Forney not guilty.
All three stood accused of 11 charges each — three counts of murder related to the death of Lt. Floyd, four counts of kidnapping, two counts of assault, riot and conspiracy.
Ayers and Staats has both already serving life sentences for murder. Forney, originally serving 11 years for firearm and tier one possession charges, is now expected to be released in 2023.
Both Staats and Ayers had opted to defend themselves during the trial, but they were assigned standby counsel attorneys Peter Veith and Patrick Collins respectively. Forney was represented by defense attorney Gifford.
All three defenses has repeatedly slammed the quality of the state’s investigation and witness credibility throughout the trial.
After the trial, Mr. Gifford said the state offered “hardly any evidence” against his client and the acquittal was the “right result.” Referencing dozens of inmate eyewitness accounts brought by the prosecution during the trial, Mr. Gifford noted that the jury would have had to believe highly suspect testimony.
Less pleased with the results, Mr. Vieth noted that “appellate issues” may be examined in both Staats’s and Ayers’s cases.
For their part, DOC administration appeared to have mixed feelings about the verdicts. After the trial concluded, DOC commissioner Perry Phelps took a long pause when asked if the outcome provided justice for Lt. Floyd.
“I don’t know how to answer that right now,” he said at the time. “I believe the jury came to a conclusion, and we respect their decision.”
Last week, it was learned that Forney has intention to now turn around and join an already-launched civil suit against the state.
The lawsuit was filed in late October by Dover attorney Stephen Hampton on behalf of more than 100 inmates housed in Vaughn prison’s C Building (the site of the riot) during the incident.
The 80-page complaint alleges “inhumane conditions” at Vaughn prison and claims that for many years prior to the riot, prison personnel “illegally abused, mistreated and tortured inmates with virtually nothing being done by their JTVCC (Vaughn prison) or Department of Correction (DOC) supervisors, to stop them.” Further, the suit alleges the inmates in questions were savagely beaten during the siege of C Building and have been systematically “tortured and mistreated” in the wake of the riot.
Though the 18 inmates indicted with perpetrating the riot were not originally included in the civil suit, Forney will now be added since he’s been acquitted.
“Deric has contacted us and we expect to add him to the complaint when it is amended within the next three weeks,” Mr. Hampton said last week.
Who is next?
According to the New Castle County Courthouse, the next four inmates to stand trial on Monday are Obadiah Miller, John Bramble, Kevin Berry and Abednego Baynes.
All four stand accused of murder, assault, conspiracy, riot and kidnapping and they have opted to be represented by defense attorneys. As of last week, the DOC said all four men are currently being housed at Vaughn prison.
According to the DOC, Miller, 26, was originally sentenced to 10 years in prison for manslaughter in 2010. Before being charged with crimes related to the riot, his anticipated release date was this upcoming November. The murder charges he’s currently facing come with mandatory life sentences. The court says Miller will be defended by attorney Tony Figliola.
According to the Delaware State News archives, Miller’s manslaughter conviction arose from his killing 10-year-old Lionel Butler Jr. Eighteen years old at the time, Miller was witnessed shooting the boy in the chest after a confrontation in front of a half-dozen boys and girls in Magnolia.
According to police, Miller ran from the scene and remained at large for four nights before turning himself in to police at Troop 3 in Woodside.
At first, Miller was charged with first-degree murder, but received the lesser manslaughter conviction after legal defense suggested that the shooting was an accident.
Bramble, 29, was sentenced to 40 years in 2013 for home invasion, assault and firearm charges, says the DOC. He was scheduled to be released in 2048. He’ll be represented by attorney Tom Pedersen in the upcoming trial.
Bramble, along with two accomplices, was arrested shortly after a robbing and assaulting a 48-year-old man in his Lincoln home in 2012, according to a police press release.
Berry, 28, was sentenced to 14 years in prison in 2009 on robbery and firearm convictions. Before being charged with crimes related to the riot, his expected release date was May 2022.
According to court document s, Berry was arrested in late 2008 after robbing a liquor store, dry cleaner and barber shop in Wilmington with a group of armed accomplices. Attorney Andy Witherell has been appointed to defend him in the upcoming trial.
Baynes, 26, was sentenced to 18 years in prison in 2010 for second-degree murder, said the DOC. He was scheduled to be released in 2025 before being charged in connection with the riot.
According to the Associated Press,  Baynes, then 16, shot 19-year-old William Teel to death in Wilmington in 2009. About a month after the shooting, Baynes was arrested by U.S. Marshals in Elkton, Maryland, where he had been hiding out.
Trial expectations
Unless the  prosecution team — Deputy Attorneys General John Downs, Nichole Warner and Brian Robertson — takes a different tack, a presentation similar to the one given to the first jury last year is expected.
Much of the prosecution’s case rested on inmate eyewitness testimony on account of scant hard evidence and the shaky/nondescript recollection of the victims.
As far as the victims were concerned, the assailants were unrecognizable due to masks and gloves worn during the initiation of the riot.
As such, it can be speculated that the jury will struggle similarly in this case to achieve a verdict.
After three straight days of deliberation during the first trial, it seemed likely that the jury would be unable to come to consensus on several charges.
At one point during deliberation, the jury even noted to the judge that they’d reached an “impasse” and one juror had announced their intention to not return the following day, even if a verdict was not reached.
However, at the final hour, the jury found consensus and delivered verdicts on all charges.
Several requests for clarification during the process suggested the jury had been struggling to navigate the concept of “accomplice liability.”
Broadly, accomplice liability enables a person to be held criminally responsible for acts committed by a different person if they aided, assisted or encouraged the commission of the crime. Much of the prosecutions case against the first three defendants fell under the umbrella of this principle.
Testimony by inmate eyewitnesses is expected to again form the bulk of the prosecution’s case, however, Miller’s DNA was one of the few pieces of concrete evidence discovered at the crime scene.
During a statement given by a DNA expert during the first trial, it was revealed that some of Miller’s blood was found among the blood spattered inside a utility closet where Lt. Floyd had been held captive.
Though the first trial offers a preview of the approach the prosecution hopes to use, how the new jury will interpret the state’s case remains to be seen.

Staff writer Ian Gronau can be reached at 741-8272 or igronau@newszap.com

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