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Key inmate witness testimony concludes at Vaughn trial

Licensed under Wikimedia Commons, Flickr user trconrad2001
The James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smryna where the 2017 riot occurred.

The jury heard more testimony from inmate Royal Downs Wednesday during the trial of three inmates allegedly involved in last year’s riot at Vaughn Correctional Center.




Downs is currently serving a life sentence for first-degree murder committed in Maryland. He was charged last fall with kidnapping, riot and conspiracy in the Vaughn takeover— but has only pleaded guilty to riot.


He is also one of the state’s key witnesses in the trial.

During cross examination, Benjamin Gifford, defense attorney for one of the inmates currently on trial, focused on Downs’ motivations for testifying for the state.

He calculated that Downs’ maximum sentence for everything he was originally charged with would have been over 100 years. The maximum sentence under his plea deal would be just 3 years.

Gifford asked Downs if he’s aware that his performance testifying during the trials of other inmates could influence the state’s sentencing recommendation. Downs agreed.

Under Gifford’s cross-examination, Downs also said one of his priorities as he began giving statements to authorities in February 2017 was to get out of Delaware.

“You wanted off the compound, right?” said Gifford.

“I wanted out of the jail,” said Downs. “I can’t be up here giving a statement and sit in Delaware … stay in the same prison I gave a statement in.”

Downs testified he has been housed outside Delaware for about a year now. When Gifford asked where, prosecutors objected.

Gifford asked if Downs could take his plea paperwork to his parole board in Maryland as proof that he was cooperating with the state.

“I never thought of that,” said Downs. “But of course we can.”

Downs insisted that his cooperation with authorities after the riot had nothing to do with his desire to appeal his current life sentence for murder in Maryland.

“Again,” said Downs. “Me going home has nothing to do with this case. I never talked to prosecutors or anything about my case in Maryland.”


The three inmates currently on trial are Dwayne Staats, Jerreau Ayers and Deric Forney. They are each charged with riot, kidnapping, conspiracy, assault and murder.

Downs has testified he saw Deric Forney with a mask and Dwayne Staats holding a shank. He has not testified about seeing any of the current defendants directly engaged in violence against correctional officers during the riot.

Downs also testified that Staats was involved in conversations planning a protest in the prison yard, and that he was one of the inmates negotiating with Department of Correction staff over walkie-talkies during the riot. 

Last week, Staats said in the courtroom that it is "no secret" his voice is on the recording of negotiations.

On Wednesday, the state also began to call witnesses who had examined physical evidence in the case.

These included fingerprint examiner with the State Anthony DiNardo and DNA analyst Lauren Rothwell. They both say they were tasked with examining shanks — among other evidence.


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