Vaughn inmate’s trial postponed; judge cites ‘deteriorated’ conditions with lawyer

Defense Attorney Jason Antoince (Illustration by Sam Ford)

WILMINGTON — Roman Shankaras, one of the 18 inmates charged in connection with the deadly Vaughn prison riot last year, will continue his trial later this year due to a deteriorating relationship with his lawyer.

When the jury entered the courtroom on Tuesday, Judge William C. Carpenter Jr. informed them that Shankaras’ case was being separated from the three other inmates currently on trial. The judge noted that although the reasons for the separation weren’t relevant to the current trial, Shankaras’ relationship with defense attorney Jason Antoine has “deteriorated” to a point where it was affecting the trial.

The sudden change in representation is thought to be the cause of a delay that postponed the trial on Monday.

Sixteen inmates are facing murder charges related to the riot and, along with two other prisoners, are also looking at kidnapping, conspiracy and rioting charges. The inmates are being tried in five separate groups before Judge William C. Carpenter Jr. at the New Castle County Court House. The first group, currently standing trial, now consists of Dwayne Staats, Jarreau Ayers and Deric Forney, all accused of three counts of first-degree murder.

Staats and Ayers had opted to defend themselves with the assistance of state-appointed counsel. Forney is being represented by attorney Ben Gifford.

Shankaras being dropped from the ongoing trial comes at a pivotal point in the proceedings. Inmate Royal Downs, described by the defense several times as the state’s “star witness” took the stand on Friday, and again on Tuesday to give his testimony.

After noting the change, Judge Carpenter stressed to the jury that they should dismiss opening statements and other comments made by Mr. Antoine during the course of the trial. Reminding the jury that although the defendants are being tried together, the judge told the jury to continue considering their cases separately.

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