5 teens seek innocence in murder of Chris Paul’s grandfather
In 2002, Nathaniel Jones returned home from the North Carolina gas station he owned to find an attack waiting for him in his carport, leaving him dead on the ground with his hands tied and his mouth taped .
The 61-year-old left behind a loving family – the most famous being a grandson named Chris Paul, a high school basketball prodigy who would go on to rise to fame in the NBA. After Jones died, young Paul scored 61 points in a single tribute game.
Winston-Salem police quickly zeroed in on a group of five teenagers from the Jones neighborhood: Nathaniel Cauthen, Rayshawn Banner, Christopher Bryant, Jermal Tolliver and Dorrell Brayboy – none of them over the age of 15, all with a history of learning problems.
One by one, the police extracted confessions from each of the five, sending them to prison, where two of them remain locked up after 20 years.
But on April 18, a three-judge panel in Forsyth County will hear evidence that four of the men should be exonerated, an argument bolstered by the finding of the 2020 North Carolina Innocence Commission of Inquiry according to which evidence of their innocence exists.
In March, the NC Center on Actual Innocence filed a 90-page plea outlining the critical issues in their cases, all based on forced confessions.
Among those he cites:
▪ The teens had no lawyers or parents present when officers questioned them late at night.
▪ Their confessions contradict each other and each describes himself as playing a minor role in the attack. Additionally, their descriptions of Jones’ murder do not match the crime scene evidence.
▪ Police threatened teenagers with the death penalty when they were too young to be eligible, at one point pointing to a vein in a suspect’s arm and telling him the needle would go there.
▪ The main witness for their prosecution has since recanted her story, saying under oath at the 2020 commission hearing that she told detectives what she thought they wanted to hear after threatening her with legal action.
▪ The only physical evidence is a set of shoe prints taken from the hood of Jones’ car, where someone apparently stood to loosen the dome light bulb. Evidence showed a match with shoes taken from one of the teenager’s homes, but the model, a Nike Air Force 1, was a hugely popular sneaker at the time.
“You had five teenagers who were on the radar of a few law enforcement officers,” said Christine Mumma of the Center for Actual Innocence, who represents Banner. “You had 14, 15 year olds who weren’t equipped to handle this kind of pressure type situation and you had a lot of adult law enforcement officers with guns to their hips who were very well equipped to catch teens.”
“We stay strong”
As one of the greatest point guards of all time and ubiquitous in State Farm insurance commercials, Chris Paul figures prominently in the case despite not having been implicated publicly.
During the commission hearing in 2020, a member of the Charles Paul family pointed to the far greater impact of Jones’ death that does not make headlines.
“We stay strong,” he said. “But we just wanted to let you all know that it’s still lost as Chris Paul’s grandfather, but he’s my wife’s father and her sister’s, someone they loved very much. And i just want you all to know that we appreciate him and on behalf of my wife and his sister, he is a man we love and miss everyday, and there is nothing we can do to bring him back We just want you all to know.
Chris Paul often worked at his grandfather’s gas station, and for a tribute while in high school, he asked his coach at West Forsyth High to let him play an entire game. It was then that he scored 61 points, his grandfather’s age at the time of his death.
“He was my best friend; I talked to him every day,” Paul told the N&O in 2002. matches. Our relationship, however, had nothing to do with basketball. He was just my best friend.”
In 2004, when the first trials began, the five teenagers filed motions to suppress confessions they had made to police, after almost immediately retracting them. All five motions were defeated.
Years later, seeking an exoneration, Bryant testified that he started crying during his first interview with police.
“They were telling me if I didn’t tell them something I was going to be sentenced to death because the man was on the phone right now asking me which arm I wanted him on,” he said, according to mom’s file. “And they were pointing at the vein and stuff, and I’ve never experienced anything like that, so I just thought if anything I said would satisfy them.”
In 2004, Cauthen and Banner received life sentences for first-degree murder, which they are still serving. The others were convicted of second-degree murder and common-law robbery, for which Bryant and Tolliver were released in 2017.
Released in 2018, Brayboy was later stabbed to death in the parking lot of a Food Lion, Greensboro News & Record reported in 2019. Mumma said his innocence would be sought in a separate process.
In 2020, a neighborhood witness, Jessicah Black, testified before the commission that she lied under oath, putting the men in jail. She said she was more scared than she had ever been in her life.
“When I first sat down with (the police) I told them exactly what I had just sat here and told you where we went,” she said, according to the transcripts of hearings. “I keep going – I was told I was lying. And it was – it was a constant beat me I lie, I lie, I lie, I lie, I lie. And I felt like the more I sat here and changed things up and – and that’s when they stopped asking specific questions. …So they kept telling me that I was facing so much weather and I could go down for prop. I mean, they made sure to make me aware of all of this.
Changes in juvenile denominations
Neither Winston-Salem police nor Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O’Neil’s office returned calls or emails seeking comment.
O’Neil, who ran for North Carolina attorney general as a Republican in 2020, sent a report to the Innocence Inquiry Commission the same year as the teens’ case was pending. ‘exam. He did not handle the prosecution in Jones’ murder trial.
In the report, he cited “confirmation bias” and said the commission had “decided that there was sufficient evidence to show the actual innocence of the defendants and, therefore, they must present it in such a way as to confirm their decision.”
At the time, Commissioner Johnson Britt, a former prosecutor, called the report “offensive”.
In her filing, Mumma notes that North Carolina and other states have since required that minors who confess in custody must have a parent, guardian or attorney present, and the statements must be recorded.
“The bottom line,” she said, “is that this case would not be pursued today.”