Alleged ‘mastermind’ of Del. prison riot fires attorney; judge reschedules case

A 12-member jury are deliberating charges against inmates allegedly involved in a prison riot (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

A 12-member jury are deliberating charges against inmates allegedly involved in a prison riot (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

The man prosecutors call the “mastermind” of the Feb. 2017 deadly prison riot in Delaware has fired his attorney, and will be tried at a later date.

Judge William Carpenter told jurors Tuesday that defendant Roman Shankaras’ relationship with his attorney, Jason Antoine, “had deteriorated to the point” it affected the three other defendants in the trial.

Antoine declined to comment, and the details of their dispute were unclear.

Shankaras, along with Jarreau Ayers, Deric Forney, and Dwayne Staats, is charged with murder, assault, kidnapping, riot, and conspiracy in connection with the 18-hour James T. Vaughn Correctional Center prison riot in Smyrna, which led to the death of correctional officer Lt. Steven Floyd.

Shankaras is already serving a seven-year sentence for riot and robbery.

A year ago, 18 inmates were charged in relation to the standoff, and 16 of them were charged with first-degree murder. Over the next several months, multiple 12-member juries will be chosen for the trials of four defendants at a time. Each proceeding is expected to last about four weeks. Shankaras will be tried with one of those other groups, while the first trial of Ayers, Forney, and Staats will continue.

Prosecutors argue Shankaras was the “mastermind” and a “shot-caller” during the incident, while Antoine asserted his then-client had no role in violence, and even had a good relationship with Floyd.

Antoine also accused the state’s so-called “star witness’’ Royal Diamond Downs of being a tainted witness who got a cushy plea deal. Downs is already serving a life sentence and prosecutors are recommending a sentence of up to three years for a single charge of riot that he pleaded guilty to earlier this year.

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