Thursday, Nov. 14, 2002 was one of the happiest days for the family of Wake Forest basketball legend Chris Paul, since it was on this day that Paul officially committed to play ACC basketball at his hometown dream school, Wake Forest University.
Life could not have been better for Paul and his family — that is until the unthinkable happened the very next day.
In the evening of Nov. 15, five teenage boys jumped a 61-year-old man, bound his wrists, duct-taped his mouth and beat him with pipes until his heart stopped. This man was Nathaniel Jones, Paul’s grandfather, who was the first to put on a Demon Deacon hat following Paul’s signing just a day earlier.
Fast forward 22 months and one of these teenagers, Nathaniel Cauthen was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in jail without parole, seemingly ending any of his future dreams or aspirations.
However, everything changed for Cauthern on Monday, April 4, 2016, as the Forsyth County Superior Court resentenced the now 29 year-old to life in prison with parole, sparking controversy across the county and the state.
Jones, known to Paul as “Papa Chili,” was the future NBA star’s biggest fan and best friend. He was known to regularly close his Winston-Salem service station early if Paul had a game to play in at night.
Paul was a high school senior at the time and was in the midst of his final season at West Forsyth High School in Clemmons, North Carolina. Attempting to cope with his loss and without telling anyone, Paul decided to dedicate his next game to “Papa Chili” and score 61 points — one for each year of his grandfather’s life.
Two days later, Paul took the court and managed to have 59 points with two minutes remaining in the game. Knowing he needed two more, Paul drove to the basket and scored, despite getting fouled in the process. With his drive, Paul not only reached his tributary 61 points but was now within six points of the state record for points in a single game. Given the fact that the state record was in reach, many were surprised to see Paul purposefully miss his
free throw, only to immediately exit the game crying into the arms of his father.
Paul received national attention for his tributary gesture and after the five teenagers were put in prison, two of which were sentenced to life without parole, it seemed as though the harrowing story of Paul and his late grandfather had come and gone.
However, the story resurfaced in 2009 when ESPN released a film on Paul’s roots and again in April of 2011 when ESPN reporter Rick Reilly spoke with the point guard about the relationship he had with his grandfather.
It was in 2009 that Paul expressed his sentiments about the murderers of his Papa Chili, in saying, “These guys were 14 and 15 years old [at the time], with a lot of life ahead of them. I wish I could talk to them and tell them, ‘I forgive you. Honestly.’ I hate to know that they’re going to be in jail for such a long time. I hate it.”
Forgiving the murderers of a close family member seem unfathomable to most, but for Paul seems like what his grandfather would have wanted.
“Even though I miss my granddad I understand that he’s not coming back. At the time, it made me feel good when I heard they went away for life. But now that I’m older, when I think of all the things I’ve seen in my life? No, I don’t want it. I don’t want it.”
Paul’s incomprehensible declaration of forgiveness and love may come to fruition when the 13 year-old story resurfaced Monday as Judge John O. Craig of the Forsyth Superior Court resentenced Cauthen to life in prison with the possibility of parole.
Cauthen, who was just 15 when he committed the heinous crime, now has a chance to be eligible for parole in the year 2029, large in part to a ruling issued by the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2012 which stated judges could not give mandatory life sentences to juveniles.
And it was just this year that the U.S. Supreme Court decided to make this ruling apply retroactively, making a case such as Cauthen’s be changed and resentenced to life in prison with parole since he would have been a juvenile at the time of Paul’s grandfather’s death.
While controversy undeniably surrounds the resentencing of an individual convicted of first-degree murder, it is equally inevitable that “Papa Chili’s” character and values live on with the forgiveness and love reflected by Paul each and every day.