April 21, 2022
In their opening statement, the defense presented that all five defendants and Black had differing accounts when asked questions about who was involved, what the motive was, how Jones was approached, what items were used in the attack and the state of Jones’ body.
One confession claimed the teenagers used black electrical tape bought from a nearby Dollar General to bind Jones’ hands and cover his mouth. However, the defense found that Dollar General did not sell the tape that was found at the crime scene, nor did surveillance footage at that store show any of the teenagers near the property. Another confession claimed that the teenagers stole and then used Jones’ debit card, however, no card activity was found. Another confession claimed that Jones was left lying on his back with his eyeglasses nearby. Jones was actually found lying on his stomach and no eyeglasses were found at the scene.
In his opening statement, Brad Bannon, one of the defense attorneys, stated that the Winston-Salem Police Department (WSPD) intimidated the teenagers into falsely confessing, citing the lack of incriminating evidence and their maintaining of innocence since the 2004 and 2005 trials.
All five defendants would later recant their testimonies, and, in 2019, Black recanted her testimony saying that none of the teenagers or herself were involved in the crime.
At the hearing, the defense outlined three categories of risk factors that lead people to make false confessions. They say all three categories — dispositional, situational and miscellaneous — were present during the interrogations.
The dispositional risk factors that applied to the defendants were their juvenile status and mental impairment. The situational factors included placing the teenagers in solitary spaces, screaming at them and openly wearing firearms in the interrogation room.
We do not prioritize the finality of a conviction over the innocence of the convicted”
— Defense Attorney Brad Bannon
Perhaps the most damaging of the situational factors was the WSPD intimidating the teenagers with false punishment. Police officers threatened the teens with the possibility of the death penalty if they did not tell the truth; however, juveniles could not receive the death penalty in North Carolina in 2002. This is still the case now. The defense argued that this intimidation tactic proved to be successful, as none of the teenagers confessed to anything until they were presented with the possibility of capital punishment.
Finally, the defense presented other factors that lead to false confessions like assumption of guilt and confirmation bias, which were evident through the investigators’ failure to follow up on multiple leads and tips once they brought the five teenagers into custody.
The defense concluded their opening statement by saying that they do not have to prove whether or not there was ineffective assistance of counsel or who the true perpetrator was but simply whether or not there is sufficient evidence to prove these four men innocent.
“We do not prioritize the finality of a conviction over the innocence of the convicted,” Bannon said to round out his opening remarks.
The state responded to the defense in their opening remarks given by Forsyth Co. Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Martin (Wake Forest School of Law ‘96).
The checks and balances were in place for the defendants.”
— Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Martin
One of their main rebuttals was the fact that the teenagers maintained their statements even when they were not being coerced in trial or in conversations with their attorneys. Additionally, she reminded the judges of the teenagers’ extensive history with law enforcement — the five of them had a combined 140 interactions with law enforcement before Nov. 15, 2002.
“The checks and balances were in place for these defendants,” Martin said in response to the defense’s claim that capable attorneys were not provided to the defendants.
Martin also claimed that the reporter to whom Black recanted her testimony — Hunter Atkins of the Houston Chronicle — before recanting under oath, had harassed numerous witnesses and offered bribes to eyewitnesses and defendants. Martin also stated that the reporter had given Black false information about the case in order to elicit the recanting.
If one thing was clear from Martin’s opening statements, it was the fact that the state believed there was no “factual evidence of [the defendant’s] innocence”. In 2020, there was a hearing conducted by the Innocence Inquiry Commission that determined there was sufficient evidence of factual innocence to merit an exoneration hearing by a three-judge panel.