WILKES-BARRE — A deadlocked jury prompted a mistrial Wednesday in the case of three inmates accused of sparking a riot at an area prison in 2010.
The jury forewoman informed Luzerne County Judge Lesa S. Gelb the panel was unable to come to a unanimous verdict after about 3½ hours of deliberations, putting an end to just over a week of testimony in the trial of three defendants whose day in court had already been pushed back multiple times.
Rioting charges against Andre Jacobs, 33, Carrington Keys, 44, and Duane Peter, 44, were forwarded to county court in 2010. The men are charged with one felony count each of rioting after prosecutors allege they barricaded themselves inside their cells in the restricted housing unit at State Correctional Institution at Dallas on April 29, 2010.
A team of guards forcibly extracted the men, along with fellow inmates Anthony Locke, Anthony Kelly and Derrick Stanley, from their cells after they were given several orders to remove the coverings from their cell doors — a violation of the prisons code — and didn’t comply.
Jurors began deliberating the fate of the men at 12:20 p.m., but indicated a little over an hour later they may be at an impasse after asking the judge how long they were required to deliberate while locked in a stalemate.
Asked around 4 p.m. if more time would help produce a verdict, the forewoman told the judge, “No, we’re deadlocked.”
Assistant District Attorney James McMonagle said he would have preferred a verdict “one way or the other,” but acknowledged it wasn’t uncommon for juries to be split on a decision.
“If a jury can’t reach a decision, they can’t reach a decision,” he said.
Jurors declined to comment on the reason for the impasse when approached by reporters after the hearing.
McMonagle said he informed District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis of the result and will sit down with the DA in the near future to determine whether prosecutors will retry the case. With the schedules of three defendants, two defense attorneys and a judge to consider, speculating on a timetable would be difficult, McMonagle said.
“Hopefully it’s done sooner rather than later,” he said. “I think that would be in fairness to everybody … to try to get this resolved as expeditiously as possible.”
Keys, who was also charged with aggravated harassment by prisoner after he allegedly flung feces at guards during the incident, appeared upbeat as he was led out of the courthouse after the hearing.
“A win is a win,” Keys said, adding that the men plan to continue fighting their charges “all the way.”
“A win is a win,” Peter repeated.
The inmates argued their behavior was a means of protest enacted to draw attention to alleged mistreatment by prison guards. Prosecutors, however, said the incident was a “straightforward” violation of prison rules that was meant to trigger an official response from guards.
“The rule is you can’t cover your cell door,” McMonagle said in his closing statements Wednesday morning.
“They wanted to make a point,” he added.
Covering cell doors may be a violation of prison rules, but it wasn’t a riot, argued defense attorney Michael Wiseman.
“It is absolutely obvious what their intent was,” Wiseman told jurors. “Their intent was to draw attention to their plight.”
The three defendants alleged they were met with retaliation after filing numerous grievances against guards at the Dallas prison, which is operating at 109 percent of its capacity, according to a recent Pennsylvania Department of Corrections population report.
Wiseman, who is representing Peter, argued the case was “about men living in close proximity who were essentially powerless to stop what they perceive as abuses.” Moreover, it was “preposterous” that the men would want to coerce a group of armed guards into forcibly removing them from their cells, he argued.
Jacobs, who represented himself during the proceedings, told jurors in his closing arguments the situation at SCI Dallas was “toxic,” and prompted him to file multiple grievances and complaints against guards.
Jacobs argued he had covered his cell door at least five times in the past and had never received a cell extraction.
“Considering it didn’t happen in those prior instances, you can conclude that wasn’t their policy and in this incident, that was what they wanted to do,” Jacobs said.
Jacobs argued he may have violated prison rules, but he didn’t commit a crime.
“I took an action on that day for my own safety,” he said.
Keys echoed Jacobs’ arguments, claiming he felt his safety was in jeopardy.
“I had no intention on being their next victim,” he said. “Not without protest.”
Court records show Keys, Jacobs, and Peter were the last of the so-called “Dallas 6” to appear in court on the rioting charges.
Kelly, 32, pleaded guilty to the rioting charge and received up to 14 months in prison.
Locke, 37, a fourth member of the group, was acquitted of a riot charge and convicted instead of a misdemeanor count of disorderly conduct.
Yet another member, Stanley, 45, entered a no contest plea to a count of resisting arrest after prosecutors withdrew the riot charge. Gelb sentenced Stanley to 95 to 190 days in prison, but he was released after receiving credit for 196 days served, court records show.