Sentencing date set for convicted inmates in Vaughn riot trials

WILMINGTON — The three inmates charged and convicted with perpetrating the riot at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center on Feb. 1, 2017, will be sentenced on Sept. 13, according to Judge William C. Carpenter Jr. All three men are already serving life sentences.

In October 2017, 18 inmates were charged with perpetrating the riot — 16 of whom were charged with murder, kidnapping, conspiracy, riot and assault and the remaining two standing accused of all but murder.

The first two trials, one completed last November and the other earlier this year, resulted in few convictions for the state.

Jarreau Ayers

In the first trial, the jury returned verdicts of guilty for Jarreau Ayers and Dwayne Staats and not guilty for Deric Forney. Ayers picked up convictions for riot, kidnapping, assault and conspiracy. Staats was convicted on all of those charges plus murder.

Inmates John Bramble, Abednego Baynes, Kevin Berry and Obadiah Miller were tried in the second group. That nearly month-long trial ended in February with Baynes and Berry being acquitted. Several “no decision” verdicts were issued for Miller and Bramble. All were accused of murder, kidnapping, riot, assault and conspiracy, but after hearing the state’s case against the men, the jury of 11 women and one man were deadlocked specifically on Miller’s murder and riot counts and Bramble’s assault and riot charges. The jury had deliberated for nearly five days. The state abandoned its charges against Bramble in early April.

Dwayne Staats

Staats remains the only inmate accused of perpetrating the 2017 prison riot to be convicted of murder.

Two of the indicted inmates were never going to stand trial: Royal Downs and Kelly Gibbs.

Downs pleaded guilty to the riot charge before the first trial started last fall. He accepted a plea bargain that resulted in the rest of the charges he faced being dropped. He was also required to testify in court on the state’s behalf in all three trials.

Royal Downs

Gibbs killed himself in November, shortly after the conclusion of the first trial. His suicide came days after he had pleaded guilty to charges of riot, kidnapping and conspiracy.

After the second trial, the DOJ announced in mid-March that they decided not to pursue charges on six of the remaining inmates.

Inmate Roman Shankaras stood trial in May, but was fully acquitted. Shortly afterward, the DOJ announced its intention to not pursue charges on any of the remaining inmates.

Downs’ deal

Though Downs is currently serving a life sentence, there’s question as to how harsh his new sentence will be.

During the trials, defense attorneys routinely grilled Downs on the bargain he made with the state when he pleaded guilty to riot — a crime that only comes with a zero-to-three-year sentence.

During cross-examination, much was made of Downs’ plea agreement and his alleged maneuvering to secure a good outcome for himself in exchange for so-called “snitching” on his fellow indicted inmates.

Several times it was suggested that Downs had intentions to use his cooperation with the prosecution to get leniency in his original murder conviction in Maryland. Downs admitted from the stand, that prior to and since the riot, there have been developments in his original murder conviction in the form of a recanted testimony that may lead to it being overturned with the help of a lawyer.

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