- Associated Press - Friday, April 23, 2021

DOVER, Del. (AP) - The Delaware Supreme Court has upheld the convictions of an inmate who was found guilty of several crimes for his role in a fatal riot at the state’s maximum-security prison.

A three-judge panel on Thursday rejected Jarreau Ayers’ claim that a statement made to the jury by a prosecutor during closing arguments unfairly prejudiced him.

Ayers, who was already serving a life term for murder, was sentenced to an additional 123 years behind bars after a jury found him guilty of kidnapping, assault, riot and conspiracy in connection with the February 2017 riot.

Ayers, who was acquitted of murder in the death of prison guard Steven Floyd, claimed during his trial that he knew “something was going to happen” but that he did not participate in planning and executing the takeover of a building at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center. He testified that he was in the recreational yard when the building was taken entered only after the takeover was complete.

During closing arguments, however, a prosecutor asked jurors to consider whether the courtroom demeanor of Ayers, who acted as his own attorney, indicated that he could be believed.

“His testimony was that he was left to stay in the yard; he couldn’t go inside. He was going to wait while his loved ones were inside doing what he knew, and endorsed, happening,” the prosecutor said. “You spent the better part of the last month with Jarreau Ayers. What about Mr. Ayers suggests that he is that person? That he’s not going to do exactly what he wants to do, which is to go inside and join in what’s happening there.”

Ayers, who acted as his own attorney, objected to the statement, saying it unfairly implicated his character. The judge overruled the objection.

Ayers argued on appeal that the prosecutor’s comments improperly invited the jury to consider his character based upon their observations of him in the courtroom, and that the judge erred in not instructing the jury that their verdict should be based only on the evidence.

The Supreme Court ruled that if the trial judge did error in failing to cure any alleged prejudice caused by the prosecutor’s comment, it was “harmless error,” and that “not every instance of prosecutorial misconduct requires reversal.”

Eighteen inmates were indicted after the riot, but prosecutors were able to obtain guilty verdicts only against two: Ayers and self-proclaimed riot leader Dwayne Staats. Both Ayers and Staats, who also was already serving life for murder, acted as their own attorneys. One of the other defendants killed himself just days after pleading guilty to rioting, kidnapping and conspiracy. The prosecution’s star witness, another convicted murderer serving a life term, pleaded guilty to a single count of riot.

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