Four More Bravely Stare Down State’s Fixation On Retribution For 2017 Smyrna Prison Uprising

Wilmington, DE

“Prison is not somewhere people aspire to spend their lives,” Delaware assistant attorney general Nichole Warner told us as she opened the state’s case against Kevin Berry, John Bramble, Abednego Baynes and Obadiah Miller. These four individuals, like those who were tried before them, know this fact all too well given the repression they have faced before and after the events of February 2017. And so, once again we bear witness and offer support however we can- by writing letters, by showing up in court, by raising money, by making time to listen, by lifting up voices for human dignity!

Speaking about February 1, 2017- AG Warner described “a day unlike any other, that not all would live to regret,” when prisoners seized control of C building at James T. Vaughn Correctional Facility, and held it for nearly a day. She spoke of the uprising in terms of terror and criminal responsibility, underscoring the state’s method of dealing with issues by making people pay, instead of taking even modest steps to correct dire problems. It was evident from the previous trial, where no service was given to the vicious, coordinated and planned machinations of prison (and the devastating impacts this causes to people and families), but rather, a singular desire on the part of the state to identify, isolate, and punish several individuals for the collective failure of a brutal, racist system to protect even its own enforcers, such as the late Sergeant Steven Floyd.

Cautions came in opening arguments from defense attorneys for each of the comrades currently facing trial, focusing on Delaware’s accomplice liability statutes and the state’s emphasis on circumstantial evidence. Cleon Cauley for Abednego Baynes noted that “everything the state said earlier was not evidence” and advanced his notion that “it will become evident that the state made a snap judgment” about his client. It is hard to disagree with Mr. Cauley’s claim that “constant questioning is the only way we can reach the truth.” Andrew Witherell, representing Kevin Berry, emphasized the need for presumption of innocence despite, in his words, the stigma of incarceration and the understanding of an inmate’s condition as being unpopular. Speaking to the jury, he said “you can see and hear [collaborating] witnesses, make conclusions about what they say and how they say it, how they act, their demeanor.. you can listen and make judgment as to their bias, their concerns. Is there trickery? What do they expect to get out of this trial?” Tom Pedersen, representing John Bramble, asked the jury “would you be satisfied with what you hear if Mr. Bramble was the valedictorian of the charter school?” He then warned the jury that they would hear a “dizzying array of contradictions,” asking them to consider whether they would “allow these contradictions to return a verdict of guilty.” He also correctly identified a “lack of dignity” in the state’s approach, extending this to Sergeant Floyd and making clear that this is “about finding truth, not about throwing it up against the wall and hoping something sticks.” He promised a “vigorous and zealous” defense of John Bramble moving forward. Obadiah Miller, who was anticipating release in October 2019 prior to being targeted by this- as the judge explicitly stated during court- ongoing investigation, is being represented by Tony Figliola. Mr. Figliola instilled the notion that his client was “a friend of some of the organizers, and he was dragged into this because of that association.”

A sobering reminder that in its relentless quest to retaliate against those who dare to assert their humanity, the state will also seek to criminalize us based on who our friends are.

Following a once more tedious and plotless offering and review of the state’s direct evidence- photographs and envelopes out of context while interviewing the state’s crime scene experts and evidence collection and processing teams- it was apparent that the approach of wearing out the jury by showing item after item would be used again, in addition to heavy reliance on collaborating witness testimony for the state. The state appears to be counting on the jury- and thusly on each of us- to accept its deadly assertions through trading on what Jarreau Ayers called “the illusion of prestige” during his own self-mounted defense in the fall’s first round of trials. Jarreau Ayers’ diligent and courageous pro se efforts resulted in his acquittal by jury on the murder charges and conviction on kidnapping, riot and conspiracy, but it was clear that this illusion of prestige he so perfectly identified was going to be strong again in the opening week here.

Details of what was described- as it had been in the last trial- as the biggest crime scene in Delaware history were reviewed, but the state continued to fail in accounting for why well under 10 percent of the items presented as evidence were in turn analysed by forensic experts despite this investigation being characterized as a “spare no expense” situation. The death of a law enforcement officer (as correctional officers are classified in Delaware) was one of the outcomes of the uprising- this carries its own separate murder charge in Delaware, so each defendant indicted for murder has two murder charges despite there being one death discovered in the end. The state demonstrated in its witnesses’ testimony once more that no outside consultation was made by the state’s investigators with professionals who had engaged with similar situations at any time. It was, as it had been before, abundantly clear early this week that the strength of the bamboozle would again be key to the state’s pursuit of retaliation, retribution and fear-mongering in a desperate attempt to persist in their agenda of domination over each and all of us.

Court support is always welcome- though discretion, composure and situational awareness all remain paramount as there is and has been constant media, state and law enforcement presence (all with smartphones) in the courtroom, hallways and surrounding areas in Wilmington. It remains advisable to note for care of self and others that this will be a long haul, with record of a 5 week trial completed thus far and reasonable belief that this second round of four planned trials will last at least that long as well. Stay tuned for regular updates as to the evolving cases both for and against the defendants of Smyrna.

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