The second week of the second round of trials in the state’s pursuit of retribution for the uprising in James T. Vaughn Correctional Center this time two years ago came to an end Friday, January 25 in Wilmington, Delaware. It was a short week, with the federal holiday observed on Monday and Judge Carpenter, who presided over the last round of trials, leaving early on Friday to travel to Las Vegas (but not to gamble, as we were assured). Per Judge Carpenter, there will be no court on Monday of next week, either.
The bulk of this week was the state’s presentation and the defense’s cross-examinations of some of their roster of collaborating inmate witnesses, all of whom testified that they were in C Building at the time of the takeover on February 1, 2017. They acknowledged varying degrees of engagement with people they identified as having various roles in the process, though not all agreed as to who did what, when or where. This is consistent with testimony from last trial, in which all of this week’s snitch witnesses had already testified. As promised by defense counsel in opening arguments, there is indeed a dizzying array of contradictions being shown by the state to the jury.
For the first time, we heard from Aaron Lowman, a 33 year old person serving a life sentence in prison under Delaware’s habitual offender statute. This statute was recently revisited, allowing for the possibility of reduction of sentences as well as for parole in certain cases; while defense attorneys have certainly made them work to prove it, the state has had each of their witnesses thus far speak frankly from the stand in confirmation of their not having any sort of “deal” or “agreement” with them from which they may stand to improve their current situations.
The agreement to align with power means embracing its repression and debasement of human beings- including one’s own self. The inevitable outcomes- personal devastation along with little, or even no improvement to circumstances- are evident all over this situation. This was quite clear in the testimony of Aaron Lowman, who tells us he was previously known as Snoop but has since renounced what he called his “street name.” “Snoop” was apparently mentioned by cooperating witness Antonio Guzman, who testified in last trial and in this trial, stoking the interest of state investigators. He had previously declined to disclose information in statements to these investigators, which he demonstrated from the witness stand both for the prosecutors and for defense attorneys. This, he tells us, is because he was fearful of being charged; as far as speculation thus far about Lowman’s active involvement in the uprising, it was said by Antonio Guzman that “Snoop” tied his hands up prior to releasing him through the yard door in the presence of Jarreau Ayers, convicted of all but the murder charges in last trial. Lowman was consistent with other snitch witnesses in saying that Jarreau Ayers was one of the people negotiating from inside C Building via radio and cellphone with Delaware Department of Corrections personnel, and that he was involved with people leaving the building through the course of the uprising.
Why would a person with life in prison fear providing information to investigators? There is so much here to explore about assisting one’s oppressors and/or collaborating in ill fate befalling people who are in similar situations to one’s own. We didn’t hear about that, though. We reminisced over the testimony of DeShawn Drumgo, also incarcerated at Smyrna, in defense of Jarreau Ayers. The state, we’ll remember, had asked him why he didn’t assist investigators. “They were beating me. That’s a slave mentality,” he said. Aaron Lowman feared retribution, he said repeatedly. “I didn’t want what happened to Smitty [correctional officer and state witness Winslow Smith] to happen to me,” he said.
He said a lot of things- things that were profoundly inconsistent with prior collaborating witness testimony. He said that correctional officer Lieutenant Sennett, called as a witness for the state last week and who also testified in the previous trial, entered the building when it was under siege and heard Sergeant Floyd- who was found deceased 20 hours later, when the state retook the control of the building by bashing a wall with a backhoe and clearing a path inward with flash bangs and fists of fury- say “help me, get me out of here” from inside a mop closet. Aaron Lowman tells us that Sennett ran out, and that he did not see him again.
He said he was able to move freely about the building because his door did not lock completely, though it stayed closed enough to not disturb the remote key system used by correctional officers. He testified that he took advantage of this that day, though under cross-examination it became clear that he had testified that he saw things from viewpoints that are not permissible in the light of building layout and mechanics of the space. Happily, he did not identify Abednego Baynes or Kevin Berry in photographs, which is consistent with prior witness Antonio Guzman saying nothing of import about them, himself. Last week, state’s witness Royal Downs, himself incarcerated in C Building at the time and operating under a plea agreement of guilty to riot charges only in exchange for information about the uprising that he featured prominently in, said of Abednego and Kevin, “I don’t even know why they’re being charged.” He confirmed that he knew Abednego, and confirmed that he was “not involved in anything,” in the words of defense attorney Saagar Shah, co-representing Abednego with Cleon Cauley.
In the same exchange, there was discussion about whether Aaron Lowman believed that others in C Building were telling investigators that he had been vandalizing property in the building. He doubled down on saying he “didn’t do nothing.” Defense counsel Shah asked him if someone had otherwise, would they be mistaken or lying? He said “no, I did what I was told to do, not of my free will.”
Later, with prosecuting assistant attorney general Nichole Warner, he honored what he’d previously testified to- that his mother encouraged him to tell the state what he knew. The skillful observer of this history in the making will note that his statement to investigators indicating his transition to active collaboration against the defendants of Smyrna came on December 5, 2018, after the end of the first trial. “[I wanted] to get it off my chest for the most part, and come clean.” “What were you told regarding deals?” Warner asked. “There would be absolutely no deal for my testimony,” he responded. “What does that mean?” “That I will do the rest of my time in prison,” he answered.
The final word went to Anthony Figliola, defense attorney for Obadiah Miller, who ferreted out a long and significant list of contradictions between Aaron Lowman’s testimony and that of all other witnesses who have come before him during his cross-examinations. He built on what AG Warner had him verify his having asked to turn the recording he was aware of off during his statement in September. “You asked for the tape to be turned off, then you started identifying people. Was that before or after Detective Weaver [chief investigator, who attends the trials with prosecutors] gave you the names of the inmates implicating you?” “He never did,” Lowman answered. “Are you sure of that?” “Yes.” “Nothing more.”
Court will resume at 10am Tuesday, January 29 in Wilmington.