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Vaughn riot defendant Shankaras back on trial

James Morrison
Delaware Public Media

The trial of another inmate allegedly involved in the 2017 Vaughn prison uprising began Monday.


Roman Shankaras is charged with murder of correctional officer Lt. Steven Floyd as well as assault, kidnapping, riot and conspiracy during the February 2017 takeover of the Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna.

Shankaras originally appeared as a defendant in the first trial last fall. His trial was severed from that of the three other defendents following issues between him and his attorney. The state dropped charges against six of the nine remaining defendants in March, and Shankaras is the first to be tried alone. 

During opening statements Monday, Deputy Attorney General Nichole Warner of the state's prosecution team said anyone involved in planning the takeover is “on the hook” for Floyd’s death — under the theory of accomplice liability.

She admitted no testimony would show Shankaras wielded a weapon during the takeover, and there will be no DNA evidence against him. But she pointed to several prison letters allegedly sent by Shankaras to the state’s star witness — Royal Downs—which she says implicate Shankaras as one of the riot’s leaders.

Shankaras’ attorney, Patrick Collins, questioned Downs’ credibility. The inmate took a low-sentence plea deal for his involvement in the riot. Collins said he used Shankaras’ letters to strike a “business deal” with the prosecution.

Collins called the prison takeover and the resulting violence and death a “terrible” and “tragic” incident.  “I say this with utmost respect,” he said. “But that is not why we’re here.”

He said this trial is about determining whether the prosecution presents sufficient evidence to convince the jury Shankaras is guilty of the criminal charges. He said Shankaras did not participate in the violence and that no DNA or video evidence will connect him to the attacks.

Shankaras’ trial is the third in the case. So far, only one inmate has been convicted of murder. Three have been fully acquitted. A jury could not reach a verdict on some charges against several others.

Lawrence Michaels and Alejandro Rodriguez-Ortiz have yet to be tried. 

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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