Four men who were convicted of murdering NBA star Chris Paul’s grandfather 17 years ago are claiming their innocence, according to documents filed in Forsyth Superior Court.
Nathaniel Arnold Cauthen, 33; and his brother, Rayshawn Denard Banner, 31, and two other men, Christopher Levon Bryant, 33, and Jermal Tolliver, 32, have all filed claims with the N.C. Innocence Inquiry Commission, court papers said.
Dorrell Brayboy, 31, was also convicted in the death of Nathaniel Jones. But Brayboy was stabbed to death in front of the Food Lion store off New Walkertown Road last year. No complaint was filed before his death.
Jones, 61, a churchgoing gas station owner, was found dead on Nov. 15, 2002, in the carport of his house on Moravia Street. He had been beaten, gagged and bound. He was left to die from a heart arrhythmia brought on by the stress of the attack, according to an autopsy. At the time of their arrests and convictions, Cauthen, Banner, Bryant, Tolliver and Brayboy were teenagers. Banner was 14 at the time. The other four were 15.
Cauthen and Banner are both serving sentences of life in prison with the possibility of parole.
Bryant, Tolliver and Brayboy were convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to a minimum of 14 years in prison, along with a separate sentence of 13 to 16 months for common-law robbery. All three were released from prison.
Not much is known publicly about the new evidence the commission’s investigators have uncovered. That information will remain confidential until the hearing this month. But there are some clues contained in motions that commission staffers filed in the men’s court files in Forsyth Superior Court.
It is rare for the commission to hold a hearing. Out of 2,700 claims the commission has reviewed since it started operating in 2007, it has held only 15 hearings. Only 12 people have been exonerated. This is the second case from Forsyth County to have a hearing in front of the commission. Last year, the commission found sufficient evidence that Merritt Drayton Williams of Winston-Salem was innocent in the 1985 murder of Blanche Bryson. Bryson, 65, was found strangled to death in her home. A three-judge panel is scheduled to hold a hearing in May in Williams’ case.
In the Jones’ case, it appears that some of the hearing will involve allegations that Winston-Salem police officers coerced the boys into making false statements.
On Feb. 3, Brian Zeigler, a staff attorney for the Innocence Commission, filed a motion seeking any records related to complaints against the Winston-Salem Police Department.
“An examination of certain records in the custody of the City of Winston-Salem is necessary to the Commission’s inquiry, as a detailed analysis of these records would allow the Commission to assess each claimant’s claim of innocence, fully evaluate the veracity and truthfulness of the claimants and other individuals, assess any potential testimony, and may also serve other investigatory purposes,” Zeigler writes in the motion.
The motion also references that at least one complaint was filed connected to police conduct in the original investigation. The motion contains a copy of a Winston-Salem Journal article published on March 11, 2003.
The story said that Bryant’s brother, Willie Bryant, filed a complaint with the Winston-Salem Police Department. He had first complained to the police department’s Professional Standards Division. According to the story, the police department told him that it would not investigate the complaint until the court proceedings had finished. He then filed a complaint with the police department’s Citizen Police Review Board. City Manager Lee Garrity, then an assistant city manager, told the Journal that the complaint was so similar to legal issues likely to come up in court that the board had no choice but to wait until the case was decided.
Garrity said Monday that he couldn’t remember what the final resolution was in Willie Bryant’s complaint. He referred questions to City Attorney Angela Carmon, who did not immediately return a message seeking comment late Monday.
Questions about witnesses
The commission also tried to get a deposition from Hunter Atkins, an enterprise sports reporter for the Houston Chronicle. Paul, who now plays for the Oklahoma City Thunder, used to play for the Houston Rockets. According to a motion, Atkins has interviewed key witnesses before the commission had a chance to interview them and that he had tried to interview Cauthen.
He also interviewed Christine Mumma, the executive director of the N.C. Center on Actual Innocence who represents Banner, according to court documents.
Atkins has not published a story about the re-examination of Nathaniel Jones’ murder and the Innocence Commission’s investigation. A representative from the Houston Chronicle could not be reached Monday.
During the trial, the boys’ attorneys alleged that police forced the boys to make false confessions and they raised questions about the testimony of Jessicah Black, who said she drove the five defendants to and from Jones’ house and that she heard them brag about the crime. She was never charged in connection with Jones’ death.
Tolliver said in a pre-trial motion that detectives falsely told him that he could face the death penalty if he didn’t cooperate. Juveniles cannot be given the death penalty.
At the hearing, five of the commissioners must vote that sufficient evidence of innocence was found in order for the case to be forwarded to a panel of three superior court judges. That panel would hold a hearing in Forsyth County and ultimately decide if Banner, Cauthen, Bryant and Tolliver should be exonerated.