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Winston-Salem 5 exoneration hearing: Judges make decision

The exoneration hearing wrapped up Thursday after a week and a half of testimony.

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — A three-judge panel unanimously denied the innocence claim for the men convicted of killing the grandfather of NBA star Chris Paul 20 years ago. 

The ruling means two men will remain in jail. Two others who are already out of jail after serving time will keep their criminal records. If the judges would have ruled the other way, it would have expunged their records.

The exoneration hearing wrapped up Thursday after a week and a half of testimony. Defense lawyers argued that the "biggest piece of evidence" was the recanted testimony of key witness Jessicah Black. Black said she lied to police 20 years ago, after she claimed detectives threatened her during the initial interrogation, only letting up when she repeated back what she thought they wanted to hear. Her testimony as a 16-year-old put five teenage boys behind bars for the murder. 

It was an emotional day in court for Paul's family including his mother, Robin Paul, who's the daughter of the victim, Nathanial Jones. The family said they can finally get some closure now and hope this is the end of coming to court. They smiled after hearing the ruling. 

"I consider this that we are done. We are done. Hopefully, we can start getting some real closure because just when you think you're done they are calling you back for something else," Robin Paul said.

Credit: WFMY News 2
Chris Paul's family react to the news after hearing the judges' ruling.

However, the Innocence Commission said they aren't done fighting for the men convicted of killing Jones.

"To see what happened today it's deflating, it's horrible," attorney Brad Bannon said. "I can't imagine what they are feeling, but they know because we've told them that this is something that might happen, and they know because we told them that this is not over."

However, the district attorney said the statute doesn't allow for anyone to appeal the decision of the three-judge panel but they said if any motions are filed they'll keep fighting. 

How we got here:

Paul's grandfather, 61-year-old Nathaniel Jones, was found beaten to death in the carport of his Winston-Salem home in November 2002 - one day after he'd seen his grandson commit to playing basketball for Wake Forest University.

Two years after the killing, brothers Rayshawn Banner and Nathaniel Cauthen were convicted of murder and robbery.

In 2005, police arrested three others.

All five were teenagers at the time of Jones' death, and all have stood by their innocence. They'd later be known as the 'Winston-Salem 5.'

One of the men convicted, Dorrell Brayboy, died in 2019. He was stabbed shortly after he was released from prison. 

In 2020, an eight-member panel of the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission held a hearing to review the claims.

At that hearing, a key witness – Jessicah Black -- recanted her testimony, saying she lied in court because she was coerced by law enforcement.

The commission found sufficient evidence of innocence to have the case reviewed, and as a result, the exoneration hearings began April 18 in Winston-Salem.

Who are the Winston-Salem 5?

  • Brothers Nathaniel Cauthen and Rayshawn Banner remain incarcerated. Both were sentenced to life in prison. During the initial trial, they were found guilty of first-degree murder and robbery with a dangerous weapon.
  • Christopher Bryant and Jermal Tolliver spent 12 years in prison before being released in recent years. During the initial trial, they were found guilty of second-degree murder and common law robbery.
  • Dorrell Brayboy died in a stabbing in 2019 following his release from prison.

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