Six inmates plead ‘not guilty’ to Vaughn riot charges

WILMINGTON — Six of the 18 inmates indicted with charges related to the deadly inmate uprising at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in February pleaded not guilty on Tuesday, according to the state Department of Justice and the Public Defender’s Office

“Six defendants were arraigned: Jarreau Ayers, Abednego Baynes, John Bramble, Kevin Berry, Royal Downs and Deric Forney,” said justice department spokesman Carl Kanefsky.

The Office of Defense Services also noted that the six inmates all “waived readings” of the charges against them and “demanded jury trials.”

Arraignments include officially making defendants aware of the charges being brought against them, advising them of their rights and offering them an opportunity to enter a plea.

Sixteen inmates are facing murder charges for the death of Delaware Correctional Officer Lt. Steven Floyd during the February uprising at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center near Smyrna.

The inmates were arraigned via video at the Superior Court in Wilmington, according to the justice department. No court dates have been scheduled for any of the remaining defendants who were indicted in connection with the riot.

Of the six that entered pleas on Tuesday, all but Downs are charged with three counts of first-degree murder (intentional murder, felony murder, and recklessly causing death of Lt. Steven Floyd); two counts of first-degree assault (a count each regarding officers Smith and Wilkinson); four counts of first-degree kidnapping (a count each for Lt. Floyd, officers Smith and Wilkinson and counselor May); one count of riot; and one count of second-degree conspiracy (regarding the riot).

Downs is charged with four counts of first-degree kidnapping, one count of riot and one count of second-degree conspiracy (for conspiring to commit riot).

Costly trials

In late October, Public Defender’s Office Chief Brendan O’Neill described the indictment as “unprecedented in its scope,” and he expects that “hundreds, if not thousands of hours” will be spent representing each of the 18 charged inmates. Mr. O’Neill speculated that all inmates charged will eventually enter not guilt pleas.

In addition to attorney fees set at $90 per hour, the state of Delaware will pay for other defense needs such as investigators and forensic experts, among other costs and rates to be determined.
“These expenses add up,” said Mr. O’Neill. “They are paid with public funds.”

The U.S. Constitution mandates protecting the rights of the inmates. While any defendant has a right by law to hire private lawyers for representation, Mr. O’Neill expects all 18 defendants to use the services of taxpayer-funded lawyers.

Sara Jacobson, director of trial advocacy programs and associate professor at Temple University’s Beasley School of Law, told this paper in October that the number of defendants can create challenges.

“There probably will be competing theories and people pointing the finger at each other,” she said.

It’s possible that some defendants could decide to turn state’s evidence with the incentive of lessened prosecution against them, Ms. Jacobson said.

“Lawyers and judges can be very creative and there are sure to be incentives for people in an effort to resolve the matter (more quickly and most fairly),” she said.

Ms. Jacobson said the time taken to bring charges made it “clear that this investigation was taken very seriously and there was a lot to unpack on this.”

She also speculated that the level of widespread attention on the case may make it difficult to hold trials in Delaware. In a small state, finding an unbiased jury pool could be challenging, especially if multiple trials are held, she said.

“There might be many potential jurors who either have the opinion of whether the DOC screwed up or the inmates took the officer’s life and must be held accountable for it,” Ms. Jacobson said.

The possibility of moving a trial or trials out of state due to the case’s notoriety is real, she added.

Mr. O’Neill said in the October interview that the Public Defender’s office had a nearly $25 million budget legislated for Fiscal Year 2018, which began July 1. His office would keep the Office of Management and Budget updated on accumulating costs of the Vaughn case.

Craig Anderson contributed to this report.

Reach staff writer Ian Gronau at igronau@newszap.com

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