The trial against the second group of Vaughn 17 defendants, Abednego Baynes, Kevin Berry, John Bramble, and Obadiah Miller continued for a fourth week. Two defendants from the first Vaughn 17 trial — Jarreau Ayers and Dwayne Staats — also testified this week in solidarity with those currently on trial.
The Vaughn 17 trial is yet another example of the American criminal justice system railroading incarcerated people for demanding humane treatment, dignity, and freedom within a prison system that enslaves millions. The four current defendants are among 18 prisoners formerly incarcerated at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna, Delaware who were indicted for alleged involvement with the Vaughn prison uprising in February 2017. Prisoners took over their building and held it for over 18 hours, a major rebellion in which one correctional officer was killed. Despite no evidence tying defendants to the rebellion, sixteen prisoners have been charged with murder, assault, kidnapping, riot and conspiracy following the uprising; two more were charged with everything except the murder.
Jarreau Ayers and Dwayne Staats, defendants from the first Vaughn 17 trial group, courageously took the stand to defend those currently on trial. During the first Vaughn 17 trial, Ayers, who was found guilty of kidnapping and assault, said, “I love my comrades I’m going to stand by them 100 percent all the way.” This week, Ayers claimed responsibility for his role in the uprising because he said he had come to realize that the uprising was a “righteous cause.” He said he couldn’t bear to see men who had nothing to do with the takeover being convicted for things he’d decided to do, even though it meant that he now stands no chance of ever leaving prison. Ayers told the courtroom, “I’m sacrificing everything to be here today.”
Staats, who was found guilty of all charges during the first trial, also expanded on his role in the takeover. On Wednesday of this past week, Staats told the court that he’d also been the first to punch Sergeant Floyd, a signal that attacks on all the officers were to begin. This new admission made the prosecution furious. Staats shrugged this off, explaining that his defense had been based on what the investigators said about him, and that they hadn’t been able to find a witness who said they’d seen him hit anyone.
Both Ayers and Staats testified that the none of the second group of Vaughn 17 defendants were involved in planning or participating in the uprising.
Bramble, Miller, Berry and Baynes have all held out under pressure and abuse for the past two years to stay in solidarity with their co-defendants. They have now convincingly attested to their lack of involvement in the takeover and some of the ways in which they were targeted as part of the state’s desperate attempt at retaliation for one of the most important uprisings so far this century.
The prosecution and the defense’s closing arguments took place on Monday, February 11, starting at 9:00am in Room 8B at the New Castle County Courthouse in Wilmington, Delaware. Jury deliberations are expected to begin on Tuesday morning.