[Pnews] Jury deliberating whether the first 3 Vaughn inmates to stand trial are responsible for the death of Correctional Officer

Prisoner News 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 
the jury.

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 
the stand."

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 
<https://www.delawareonline.com/story/news/2018/11/14/vaughn-defendant-admits-he-spurred-uprising-but-not-violence/1994062002/> it 
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," 
Downs said.

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 
their testimony?"

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 
Correctional Institution.

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./

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 https://freedomarchives.org/
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