First trial nears in Vaughn prison riot, officer’s death

One correctional officer was killed during a prison riot at Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna, Delaware in February. (File/WHYY)

One correctional officer was killed during a prison riot at Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna, Delaware in February. (File/WHYY)

Delaware’s Superior Court has started weeding out potential jurors for the upcoming trial of the first four inmates charged in the February 2017 prison riot that led to the death of a correctional officer.

The trial for Jarreau Ayers, Deric Forney, Roman Shankaras and Dwayne Staats — charges with murder, assault, kidnapping, riot and conspiracy — is expected to begin in two weeks and continue for about a month.

Ayers and Staats already are serving life sentences for murder. Shankaras is serving a seven-year sentence for riot and robbery, and Forney is serving 11 years for various firearm and drug charges.

Two of the defendants have opted to represent themselves during the trial.

A year ago, 18 James T. Vaughn Correctional Center inmates were charged in connection with the 18-hour Smyrna prison riot that led to the death of Correctional Officer Lt. Steven Floyd. Sixteen of them were charged with first degree murder.

Over the next several months, multiple 12-member juries will be picked for the trials of four defendants at a time.

On Monday, Judge William Carpenter began eliminating potential jurors who said they can’t be impartial because of  having relatives and close friends who are correctional officers — or having relatives and close friends in prison. One potential juror said she would be biased because of a friend who quit her prison job over poor conditions. Some individuals said they had already formed an opinion based on what they had learned about the riot from the media.

Jury selection is expected to start this week after the pool is narrowed down.

In December, the state paid $7.5 million to settle a lawsuit filed by six workers in the Department of Correction and five others — including Floyd’s widow and children. The lawsuit was filed against the DOC and former Govs. Jack Markell and Ruth Ann Minner, as well as other prison and budget administrators. They were accused of failing to properly fund and operate the Department of Correction and its facilities.

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