RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Three judges in North Carolina will decide whether to exonerate four men who were convicted as boys in the killing of NBA star Chris Paul’s grandfather.
The men won a major victory late Friday when the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission found sufficient evidence of factual innocence to send their cases to a panel of three Superior Court judges. The 5-3 vote came after a week-long hearing in the cases of Rayshawn Banner, Christopher Bryant, Nathaniel Cauthen and Jermal Tolliver.
The News & Observer reports that the four men waited for the decision at the N.C. Judicial Center.
“I just want to thank God. I’ve just been wanting to be heard for so long,” Tolliver said, as he left the hearing. “Me and all my other co-defendants, we’ve been through a lot.”
“I did a lot of smiling in there. I’m happy,” Bryant said.
A fifth man convicted in the case, Dorrell Brayboy, was fatally stabbed outside a Winston-Salem supermarket last year.
Cauthen and his brother, Banner, who were 15 and 14 years old at the time of Nathaniel Jones’ death, were convicted of first-degree murder and are serving life in prison.
Brayboy, Bryant and Tolliver — all 15 at the time — were convicted of second-degree murder and were released after serving prison time.
The commission voted after all four men testified Friday, saying they weren’t in Jones’ neighborhood until after the crime was committed. They said they don’t know who committed the crime and were coerced into confessing.
The 61-year-old Jones was found outside his Winston-Salem home on Nov 15, 2002. He had been beaten, with his hands taped together and his mouth taped shut. He died of a heart attack.
Paul, his grandson, was a standout high-school basketball player at the time and now plays for the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Jessicah Black said in a deposition played during the hearing that she lied in court after police coerced her into implicating the teens in the killing.
Black testified at trial that she drove the teens around that night, including to a park near Jones’ home. She said she heard them talking about wanting to rob someone and that she heard them beat Jones.