News Brief — North Carolina Innocence Commission Orders Review of Murder Convictions of Teens Falsely Threatened With Death Penalty

NEWS (3/13/20): The North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission voted 5-3 on March 13, 2020 to empanel a three-judge review committee to determine whether four men convicted as teens should be exonerated of the murder of NBA star Chris Paul’s grandfather, Nathaniel Jones. A fifth teen convicted in the murder died before he could submit his case for review by the Commission.

Nathaniel Cauthen and his younger brother, Rayshawn Banner were charged and convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life without parole. Christopher Bryant, Jermal Tolliver, and Dorrell Brayboy were convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to up to 14 years in jail. With the exception of Banner, who was 14 years old, the boys were 15 when they were accused of the murder. Bryant and Tolliver were released in 2017 and Brayboy was released in 2018. Brayboy was stabbed to death outside a supermarket in 2019 before he could submit his application for the Commission to review his case.

The boys claimed they had been coerced by police into falsely confessing, including being threatened with the death penalty, which was not a legal punishment because of their age. Police reports omitted any reference to those threats, However, during the Commission hearings, police admitted having invoked the death penalty as an interview technique when questioning two of the boys. Jessicah Black, a white teenager who was 16 years old when she became a witness for the prosecution, recanted her testimony and said during a sworn deposition that police had coerced her into falsely implicating the boys.

The Commission found “sufficient evidence of factual innocence” to ask the panel of judges to review the case.