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Innocent claim denied in death by Chris Paul’s grandfather

WINSTON-SALEM, NC (AP) – Judges on Thursday denied the innocence claims of four men convicted of killing NBA star Chris Paul’s grandfather when they were teenagers, even though a key witness has withdrawn his testimony.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 hearing in a Forsyth County courtroom, a panel of three judges rejected the claims of defendants Rayshawn Banner, Christopher Bryant, Nathaniel Cauthen and Jermal Tolliver, the Winston-Salem Journal reported.

Nathaniel Jones, 61, died of a heart attack outside his home in Winston-Salem after being tied up, beaten and robbed in November 2002. Paul, his grandson, was a prominent 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 time in prison. Brayboy was fatally stabbed outside a supermarket in Winston-Salem in 2019.

The men were charged after hours of questioning by Winston-Salem police detectives, the Winston-Salem Journal reported. They told commissioners, commissioners and judges that they were innocent and that every time they told detectives they had nothing to do with Jones’ death, they were accused of lying, according to the newspaper.

In some cases, they said, police detectives threatened them with the death penalty. Bryant said a detective pointed to a spot on his arm and said it would be where a lethal injection needle would go. Bryant said that a few minutes later, he began to involve himself.

No conclusive physical evidence tied the men to the crime scene, including fingerprints lifted from Jones’ vehicle. The commission also conducted DNA tests on the objects from the crime scene after the sentencing, but there was no match for the men.

Chris Paul has not made a public statement on the hearing. Robin Paul, his mother and his aunt, Rhonda Hairston, both took a stand on Wednesday, saying 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 and often smoked marijuana. Black told police and testified in two lawsuits 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 screaming during the attack.

Black, now 36, has since retracted his entire previous testimony, saying in court last week that it was all a lie. She said police detectives forced her to make a false statement and told her that if she did not say what they wanted to hear, she would go to jail for life for murder. She was never criminally charged.

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