Delaware Public Media

Closing arguments underway in second Vaughn prison trial

Feb 11, 2019

The second of four trials of inmates allegedly involved in the Vaughn prison riot is nearing its conclusion.


State prosecutors gave closing arguments Monday as the case that has stretched more than four weeks winds down.


The 2017 standoff at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna resulted in the death of correctional officer Lt. Steven Floyd. The four inmates currently on trial are charged with his murder, as well as assault, kidnapping, riot and conspiracy.


During closing arguments, Deputy Attorney General John Downs emphasized the violent nature of the takeover, and said the four defendants played “vital parts in the plan to take over that building.” He maintained they are all guilty as accomplices, if not directly.


Downs said the state’s case relies on eyewitness testimony. He admitted it is “not a nice, neat little story.”


He attempted to discredit defense witness testimony by pointing out places where the testimonies of two inmates do not match up. He said many of the defense witnesses are refusing to “snitch.”


State prosecutors are using the theory of accomplice liability to argue that anyone involved in planning or preparing for the riot is responsible for Floyd’s murder.


Defense attorneys for Abednego Baynes and Kevin Berry say their clients were not involved in planning the prison takeover.


Andy Witherall said his client, Kevin Berry, was present simply because he was an inmate. “Merely present does not get them accomplice liability,” said Witherall. “[Berry] didn’t plan, didn’t prepare, didn’t act as an accomplice.”


Cleon Cauley said there was “no factual, empirical evidence,” such as fingerprints or DNA, against his client, Abednego Baynes. “To be clear,” said Cauley, “we made our case off of [the state’s] witnesses.”


Cauley admitted two “uncorroborated” witnesses mentioned seeing Baynes involved in the riot. But he said seven of the state’s witnesses said Baynes was not involved— and five did not mention him.


Tony Figliola, counsel for defendant Obadiah Miller, said the theory of accomplice liability is “advantageous to the state because they don’t have to prove … who did it.”


According to state prosecutors, several witnesses said they saw Miller attacking Floyd. During his closing, Figliola pointed to inconsistencies in these testimonies.


Defense attorneys also characterized the state’s investigation of the incident as incomplete.


“The investigation was just poorly handled,” said Cauley. “There’s no way around it.”


Defendants in the first trial made similar arguments. Dwayne Staats, who represented himself, called the state's investigation of the incident “deficient.” Benjamin Gifford, defense attorney for another defendant in the first trial, said the state played down the importance of physical evidence to serve its ends.


The attorney for the fourth defendant currently on trial will give his closing argument Tuesday.


The current defendants were originally indicted on three counts of first-degree murder. One of these counts— for intentional murder— has been dropped.

According to a Delaware Department of Justice spokesperson, a nolle prosequi was entered for the intentional murder charges, verbally in early January and formally last week. The spokesperson said in an email the move was “based on the evidence expected to be entered at trial.”


Nine more inmates are expected to be tried in two trials that will likely stretch through May.  


This story has been updated.