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Jury delivers verdict in first Vaughn prison trial

James Morrison
Delaware Public Media

The verdict in the first trial of inmates allegedly involved in the Vaughn prison riot is in.


Only one of the three inmates on trial was found guilty of murder in connection with the death of correctional officer Lt. Steven Floyd during the February 2017 uprising.


Dwayne Staats was found guilty on two of the three counts of first degree murder he was charged with. During the trial, he characterized himself as an architect of the prison takeover— but denied involvement in violence.

He was convicted of first degree felony murder and first degree murder of a correctional officer. He was found not guilty of first degree intentional murder.


Staats represented himself. His stand-by counsel, Peter Veith, says they could appeal.


“He was found not guilty of intentional murder which I think is absolutely appropriate, however he was found guilty of the felony murder and the reckless murder. And we’ll look at that. Once he’s sentenced we’ll look at his appellate issues and go from there,” said Veith.


Staats and Jarreau Ayers were also found guilty of riot, conspiracy, assault of correctional officers Joshua Wilkinson and Winslow Smith and kidnapping of Wilkinson, Smith, Floyd and counselor Patricia May.

The third defendant, Deric Forney, was found not guilty on all charges.


“I don’t think there was nearly enough evidence," said Benjamin Gifford, Forney's attorney.

Forney is currently serving 11 years in prison for firearm possession and drug charges.


Staats and Ayers are each currently serving life sentences for prior murder convictions.


Department of Correction Commissioner Perry Phelps said he respects the jury’s decisions.


“When we started this process,it took us right back to the day that the event happened. And there’s a lot of emotions, and a lot of different things going on within the DOC family," said Phelps. "As I said, with this decision it will to help us move toward closure."

The jury began deliberations Friday after a four-week trial.

These three inmates are the first of 18 charged in connection to the February 2017 Vaughn prison riot to face trial.

This story has been updated.

Tom Byrne has been a fixture covering news in Delaware for three decades. He joined Delaware Public Media in 2010 as our first news director and has guided the news team ever since. When he's not covering the news, he can be found reading history or pursuing his love of all things athletic.
Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.
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