[Pnews] Jury deliberating whether the first 3 Vaughn inmates to stand trial are responsible for the death of Correctional Officer
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Tue Nov 20 10:13:48 EST 2018
Curious admission in Vaughn trial: Inmate witnesses are discussing
trial in prison
Xerxes Wilson - Nov. 19, 2018
Here's the latest in the ongoing trial of the inmates accused of
orchestrating a siege that ultimately took the life of a prison guard.
Delaware News Journal
A jury deciding whether three men should be convicted of a murder tied
to the uprising at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center last year must
figure out who to believe: the inmates on trial or the handful of
prisoners who testified for prosecutors.
After some 60 hours of trial testimony, a New Castle County jury is in
its second day deliberating whether the first three Vaughn inmates to
stand trial are responsible for the death of Correctional Officer Steven
Floyd, who bled to death during the 18-hour standoff.
"This case is dependent on people who came in and told you what they
saw," said Deputy Attorney General John Downs in his final statements to
That body of testimony is laden with contradictions, the potential for
inmate witnesses to cobble together narratives to fit prosecutors'
arguments and questions about what is motivating the inmates to testify.
"What happened to Sgt. Floyd is a tragedy and it shouldn't have
happened, but so was this investigation," said Ben Gifford, who is
representing one of the men on trial.
Gifford and the defendants characterized the investigation as "sloppy."
There were no cameras in the building. Of the blood-stained clothes and
shanks Delaware State Police decided to test
there were no forensic matches to any particular defendant currently on
trial. Prosecutors argued additional testing would likely not have
yielded useful information.
So absent other evidence, the jury must decide which inmates to believe,
the ones on trial or the ones testifying against them.
Jarreau Ayers and Dwayne Staats, defendants already serving life
sentences and representing themselves in the trial, characterized the
inmate witnesses as liars seeking a benefit in exchange for their testimony.
They said prosecutors are willing to cut deals, overlook deception and
ignore incriminating evidence against their own witnesses in order to
secure murder convictions in one of the state's most high-profile trials.
"I am fighting everything," Ayers said. "Every lie and every
contradiction I am going to point out until there are no more inmates on
Ayers' and Staats' cross examination of their former jail mates was at
times personal. They knew each other and often referred to each other by
nicknames, like Jay Bird, Poncho, Burner and Smoke.
When their motives were questioned, the witnesses said they were victims
doing the right thing.
"I can't sit there and witness someone getting hit up and brutalized and
not talk," said inmate Michael Rodriguez, known as Latino, addressing
Staats from the witness stand. "It is eating me up. It is called a
From the stand, Ayers called it a show, saying men in C Building
enjoyed their moment of "liberation." Staats said the uprising "was
festive for a second."
Both Ayers and Staats admitted roles in the takeover. Staats said he
to force Gov. John Carney to hear inmates' protests about Delaware's
prison conditions. Ayers said he wasn't involved other than helping
inmates with medical conditions out of the building during the standoff
Both said they had no personal hand in the violence. Some inmate
witnesses told a different story.
also testified that Deric Forney, the other defendant on trial who was
referred to as Twin, attacked a correctional officer in the initial
moments of the uprising.
"Twin was putting the cuffs on (Wilkinson)," Rodriguez testified. "As
I’m walking out I can hear Wilkinson scream 'please don’t kill me. I
have a little daughter.'"
Inmate statements are the only evidence against Forney, and regardless
of Ayers' and Staats' admissions about their roles, how the jury
evaluates witnesses' statements about their actions during the uprising
will decide whether they are guilty of murder, a lesser crime or nothing.
'If I was a gambling man'
The uprising began when three correctional officers were overpowered by
numerous inmates using what prosecutors described as "coordinated violence."
"People were smashing people," said inmate witness Richard McCane.
But who attacked who, where and when during the assault is told
differently by the handful of inmates who testified to seeing the melee.
None that say they witnessed the attack could recall seeing others that
testified that they were present.
The attackers were mostly wearing makeshift masks but some inmates said
they could identify them anyway.
Abdul-Hafid As-Salafi was the only witness that said he saw Ayers
attacking Floyd. He also was one of two who said he saw Forney attack
another correctional officer.
As-Salafi said he identified Ayers through "skin tone" and "mannerisms."
"I’ve been incarcerated for a substantial amount of time and I have been
around him," he told the jury.
McCane said he saw Staats return to his tier with bloodied clothes.
In prior statements, he told police he saw him using a mirror to look
down the tier. In testimony, he said he saw him without a mirror. Later,
he admitted to not seeing his face.
“Is it possible you could have just profiled me?” Staats asked him.
McCane said he made a mistake regarding the mirror and reiterated it was
him he saw.
"If I was a gambling man, I’d bet on it," McCane said.
Downs, the prosecutor, said such issues are to be expected.
"Those things happen when you recall things not only 18 months later,
but after something that was a disturbing, frightening experience,"
Contradictions were particularly important for Ayers, who was accused by
some witnesses of ordering a group of inmates lingering in the
building’s yard back into the building minutes after the initial attack.
If true, it means he played an integral role in the riot from near its
inception and increases the likelihood the jury will find him guilty of
murder as an accomplice.
He called inmates to the stand refute those presented by prosecutors. He
attacked contradictions between separate witnesses as well as
inconsistencies between testimony and the inmates’ prior statements to
For example, inmate Eugene Wiggins, told the jury he saw Ayers' face
when he called the inmates in. Ayers noted that in his prior statements
to police he said he only heard the person's voice calling the group in,
and that “my gut is telling me it was Jarreau, but I could be wrong."
"The (prosecutor) knows that," Ayers told the jury. "If I didn't tell
y'all that, they wasn't going to tell y'all that."
Inmates told the jury that their initial statements to police were
rushed because other prisoners were timing how long they were pulled
from their cells to speak to police.
Ayers also noted that the state's "star witness," an inmate that was
indicted and promised his testimony in return for a plea deal, said he
didn't know why Ayers was being charged.
That witness told the jury someone else called the inmates in from the
yard, but is also the only person to testify that Ayers was involved in
planning the uprising.
Downs implored the jury to "use your common sense."
"This is what happens when people are involved in any event, especially
one that is disturbing and scary," Downs said. "Sometimes the little
details lose their way."
'Hope springs eternal'
Ayers told the jury the case was built "on men desperate to go home,"
arguing the inmates testifying against him will benefit from their
cooperation with prosecutors.
Gifford and the defendants representing themselves pointed out that some
inmates were eager to help police in return for getting transferred out
of Delaware or getting a break on their sentences.
Gifford quoted one witness' explicative-filled statement to police that
"them N words" did the riot and "if I can capitalize off of it and go
... home, that is what ... I'm going to do."
In court, each inmate testified said they received "no promises" from
"What deals?" Deputy Attorney General Brian Robertson asked the jury.
"We are now four weeks out, what were the deals that people got for
For most inmates, Gifford quizzed them about their sentence and the
potential for the state to help them. At least one said they were under
the impression that they could receive some benefit all the way up until
two weeks before trial.
"It doesn’t matter if they are actually getting or have gotten benefits
from the state," Gifford said. "Hope springs eternal."
He said that benefit doesn't have to be a promise from a prosecutor. He
told the jury the Department of Correction lords over the lives of the
inmates: "who they get to see, who they get to talk to, how long they
get to come out of their six-by-six cell."
"(DOC) lost a brother," Gifford told the jury. "Do you think it possible
that inmates who testify and the DOC perceives to have helped the
prosecution, that DOC helped them out a little bit?"
Robertson said such benefits are not in evidence.
'I read the paper'
The defendants and Gifford accused the inmates of colluding to craft
testimonies that fit the prosecutors' ends.
They said the witnesses could do that because they have time to talk and
prosecutors' theories were set out in the pages of The News Journal.
Gifford asked the jury if they really believed that anytime during the
18-hour standoff that those responsible didn't talk about how they could
get away with the crime and who to pin it on.
Trial testimony established that some two dozens of the state's
witnesses are being housed together, in a single tier at Howard R. Young
Inmate witnesses said they were free to spend time talking to the other
witnesses and that no detective or prosecutor warned them against
speaking to each other. They denied speaking to each other about their
testimonies but said they are talking about the case.
"Who is not talking about this case?" Rodiguez said.
Rodriguez said inmates have easy access to The News Journal and pass it
around. Gifford asked him if he had read the newspaper in the days prior
to taking the stand.
"Of course, who doesn’t?" Rodriguez said.
In addressing the jury, Ayers recalled testimony he said contradicted an
inmate's previous statements.
"That was in February. He comes back in November: 'everybody y'all got
in the paper, that is who it was,'" Ayers said.
Once the jury returns its verdict in this trial, 14 more C Building
inmates are set to be tried for murder tied to the uprising in multiple
trials over the coming months.
/Contact Xerxes Wilson at (302) 324-2787 or xwilson at delawareonline.com.
Follow @Ber_Xerxes on Twitter./
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