A judge is allowing forensic testing of evidence that might result in proving someone else is responsible for murdering NBA star Chris Paul’s grandfather, Nathaniel Jones, in 2002.
Judge Allen Baddour is the chair of a panel of three Superior Court judges charged with determining whether four men convicted in Jones’ death should be exonerated. The N.C. Innocence Inquiry Commission held a five-day hearing last year and members voted 5-3 that there was sufficient evidence that the four men might be innocent in Jones’ death. The three-judge panel was scheduled to hold an evidentiary hearing in April but that hearing has now been continued. A new hearing date has not yet been set.
Jones, a 61-year-old gas-station owner who was active in his church, was found on Nov. 15, 2002, lying in the carport of his home on Moravia Street. He was beaten so badly that he died from a heart arrhythmia brought on by the stress of the attack. Five boys — Nathaniel Cauthen; his brother, Rayshawn Banner; Christopher Bryant; Jermal Tolliver; and Dorrell Brayboy — were all convicted in separate trials in 2004 and 2005.
Cauthen, Banner, Bryant and Tolliver filed claims of innocence with the commission. Banner and Cauthen are serving life sentences for first-degree murder. Bryant, Tolliver and Brayboy were convicted of second-degree murder and were released from prison. Brayboy didn’t file a claim and died after being stabbed in August 2019. The four men claim that Winston-Salem police coerced them when they were teenagers into making false statements. A key witness, Jessicah Black, recanted her testimony at the commission hearing that had implicated the men in the attack.
Chris Paul, who plays for the Phoenix Suns, was a student at West Forsyth High School when his grandfather died. During a game against Parkland, he scored 61 points in his grandfather’s honor. Paul is now promoting a book, “SIXTY-ONE: Life Lessons from Papa, On and Off the Court” that he co-wrote with Michael Wilbon, a host of a show on ESPN. Paul and his family have not publicly said anything about the pending case.
Banner’s attorney, Christine Mumma, filed a motion requesting that the Winston-Salem Police Department transfer several pieces of evidence — a blue toboggan, a black hair substance and scrapings of fibers taken from a brick wall — so they can be sent to forensic labs for testing. She argued in court papers that strong circumstantial evidence points to the possibility that someone else, whom she identified as Mr. Doe, could be responsible for Jones’ death.
Mumma argued that testing is needed to confirm whether there is physical evidence that points to Mr. Doe’s involvement. According to her motion, Ava Williams told police and Commission investigators that when she drove by Jones’ house on Nov. 15, 2002, she saw Mr. Doe standing on a corner and talking on the phone. She said that Mr. Doe was a crack user. An hour later, she said a man with what looked like a doo-rag sitting in Jones’ car. She said the man was small-framed and she thought he was one of Jones’ grandsons. Mumma said Mr. Doe is small-framed.
Mr. Doe told investigators that he had been on the porch of a house across the street from Jones’ house with Calvin Scriven when Clarence Walker, a painter, stopped by and asked where Jones’ house was. Walker went to Jones’ house and found Jones’ body. He went back over, and according to Mr. Doe, all three men went back to Jones’ house. Scriven and Walker told police that Mr. Jones was not on the porch and did not go over to Jones’ house. Brittany Ward told police that Mr. Doe was an uncle of a boy who lived in a house next to Jones and that Mr. Doe was missing a patch of hair. She told Commission staff that it appeared that Mr. Doe had been in a fight. Scriven, upset that his name had been mentioned in a Winston-Salem Journal story about Mumma’s motion, called a reporter Wednesday morning and called Mumma’s motion a bunch of lies. He declined further comment and hung up.
Mumma also mentioned in her motion that Willard Cab Co. received at least four calls, 15 to 20 minutes apart, from a man asking for a cab to be sent to Jones’ house. Mumma argues that a person involved in the attack on Jones called the cab company in a panic after Jones was clearly in serious distress. The person kept calling the cab company because the person didn’t see the cab outside Jones’ house, Mumma said. Scriven told police that Mr. Doe was inside the house across the street and he would have been able to see if a cab had arrived, Mumma argued.
During Wednesday’s hearing, Forsyth County prosecutors Ben White and Jennifer Martin opposed Mumma’s motion. They argued that the toboggan and black hair substance were found in a public park away from the crime scene. There’s nothing to prove that those pieces of evidence are relevant to the case, they said. But Mumma said that Winston-Salem police collected that evidence and pointed out that witnesses stated that someone ran through a pathway leading to the park on the night of Jones’ death. She also argued that Williams only drove by and could have mistaken a doo-rag for the toboggan.
White also said that Mr. Doe’s DNA profile is not in any system that could be compared with whatever DNA that might be collected from the physical evidence Mumma wants tested.
“This is basically spinning the wheels or putting the car before the horse,” he said. “...It is pointless to have it tested if they don’t have anything to compare it to.”
Mumma said Forsyth County prosecutors have the resources to find Mr. Doe and get a DNA sample from him, and Mumma has contacted Mr. Doe’s family members, including his twin sister. DNA collected from the evidence could be compared to DNA samples from those family members, which could provide a possible partial match, she argued.
White also noted that Mumma had failed to consult with prosecutors before filing her motion and in court papers, White decried that Mumma would not identify Mr. Doe by his actual name. Mumma said she wanted to protect Mr. Doe’s privacy until more evidence is found. White did not identify Mr. Doe in court papers but used his actual name during the hearing. The Winston-Salem Journal is not identifying Mr. Doe by name because he has not been charged with a crime.
At least twice, Baddour expressed confusion as to why prosecutors were opposing Mumma’s motion. He also asked White whether prosecutors would have consented to Mumma’s motion if she had consulted them before filing it. White said prosecutors would still have been opposed.
White also said that the real perpetrators of Jones’ murder were found in 2004 and 2005.
“The truth was found in 2004 and 2005 when each of these defendants were tried,” White said. “The truth was found. It is the burden of each of the claimants to prove their actual innocence. It is not the state’s burden.”
That prompted a response from Mark Rabil, an attorney representing Tolliver.
“For the state to take the position that the truth was found 20 years ago ...it’s not relevant to your decision today,” he said. “The Innocence Commission voted 5-3 to have this case go forward.”