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Fourth inmate fully acquitted in Vaughn prison uprising trials

The jury has delivered a verdict in the third trial of inmates allegedly involved in a deadly 2017 prison uprising.


Roman Shankaras was 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.

A 12-person jury found Shankaras not guilty on all counts Thursday. He is the eighth inmate to be tried in connection to the riot and the fourth to be fully acquitted. So far, only one has been convicted of murder.

Earlier in the trial, Deputy Attorney General Nichole Warner argued anyone involved in planning the takeover was “on the hook” for Floyd’s death — under the theory of accomplice liability. She said several prison letters allegedly sent by Shankaras to the state’s star witness, Royal Downs, implicated Shankaras as one of the riot’s leaders.

“In my opinion, the physical evidence or lack of physical evidence was not a significant issue in the case,” said Shankaras’ lawyer, Patrick Collins. “I think the bigger issue was that there were significant credibility issues and motivation issues with Royal Downs. And I think the case probably came down to knid of a showdown of do you believe Royal Downs or do you believe Roman Shankaras.”

Collins adds he is relieved for his client. “He was prepared for the worst but hoping for the best,” he said. "Now he’s ready to get on with his life."

The verdict means Shankaras is now free. His partner Lillian Oliver says he had been scheduled to be released seven months after the riot. “He was supposed to be home two years ago. He did everything he was supposed to do. He had a job, he was taking GED classes.”

Department of Correction commissioner Perry Phelps released a statement Thursday calling the news of Shankaras’ acquittal “upsetting.”

“We continue to be appreciative of the Department of Justice and Delaware State Police who diligently worked a complex case,” he wrote.  

Two more defendants are left to be tried in connection to the incident. The state dropped charges against six of the nine remaining defendants in March.  

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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