WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP)Judges denied the innocence claims Thursday of four men who were convicted of killing the grandfather of NBA star Chris Paul when they were teens, even though a key witness has recanted her testimony.
In 2020, the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission found sufficient evidence of factual innocence to send their cases to a panel of three Superior Court judges.
But on Thursday, after an eight-day-long hearing in a Forsyth County courtroom, a three-judge panel rejected the claims of defendants Rayshawn Banner, Christopher Bryant, Nathaniel Cauthen and Jermal Tolliver, the Winston-Salem Journal reported.
Nathaniel Jones, 61, died from a heart attack outside his Winston-Salem home after being tied up, beaten and robbed in November 2002. Paul, his grandson, was a standout high school basketball player at the time and now plays for the Phoenix Suns.
Cauthen and his brother, Banner, who were 15 and 14 years old at the time of Jones’ death, were convicted of first-degree murder and are serving life sentences. Bryant, Tolliver and Dorrell Brayboy – all 15 at the time – were convicted of second-degree murder and were released after serving prison time. Brayboy was fatally stabbed outside a Winston-Salem supermarket in 2019.
The men were charged after hours of interrogation by Winston-Salem police detectives, the Winston-Salem Journal reported. They told commission staff, commission members and the judges that they were innocent and that every time they told detectives they didn’t have anything to do with Jones’ death, they were accused of lying, according to the newspaper.
In some instances, they said police detectives threatened them with the death penalty. Bryant said a detective pointed to a place on his arm and said that would be where a needle for lethal injection would go. Bryant said that minutes later, he started implicating himself.
No definitive physical evidence ever tied the men to the crime scene, including fingerprints lifted from Jones’ vehicle. The commission also performed post-conviction DNA testing on items from the crime scene, but there was no match to the men.
Chris Paul has made no public statement about the hearing. Robin Paul, his mother, and his aunt, Rhonda Hairston, both took the stand Wednesday and said they believe the men convicted of Jones’ murder are guilty.
Jessicah Black, who was a teenager when she met the boys two months before Jones’ death, testified that she hung out with them and drove them around, often smoking marijuana. Black told police and testified in two trials that she heard some of the boys talk about robbing Jones and that she was sitting at a picnic table in Belview Park about 100 yards (91 meters) from Jones’ house and could hear Jones scream during the attack.
Black, now 36, has since recanted all of her previous testimony and said in court last week that it was all a lie. She said police detectives coerced her into making a false statement and told her that if she didn’t say what they wanted to hear, she would go to prison for life for murder. She was never criminally charged.