Citing lack of evidence, judges decline to overturn ‘Winston-Salem Five’ convictions

Lawyers for the four men who sought exoneration are vowing to continue the fight


Cooper Sullivan

Robin Paul, daughter of Nathaniel Jones, and District Attorney Jim O’Neill speak to reporters after a three-judge panel denies the innocence claims of four of the “Winston-Salem Five”

Cooper Sullivan, Multimedia Managing Editor

A three-judge panel unanimously upheld the convictions of four Winston-Salem men involved in the 2002 murder of Nathaniel Jones Thursday afternoon. 

After eight days of evidence presentation, Superior Court Judge Allen Baddour announced to a full courtroom on Thursday afternoon that they had come to a unanimous decision that there was not enough clear and convincing evidence to prove the innocence of Christopher Bryant, Jermal Tolliver, Nathaniel Cauthen and Rayshawn Banner.

Baddour prefaced the decision by acknowledging the state and defense lawyers’ diligence over the past two weeks as well as thanking the courtroom staff for allowing everything to proceed smoothly. He also acknowledged how emotionally draining the hearing was for everyone involved. 

After saying incarcerated individuals very rarely receive exonerations, Baddour announced the decision and the quiet room became silent. 

Some family members of the defendants quickly left the courtroom to console each other outside, while others stayed seated in dismay. Tears filled all eyes. Teresa McCants, the mother of Cauthen and Banner, cried as she hugged and thanked each of the defense attorneys. Christine Mumma, Banner’s attorney, cried with her.

Standing outside the Forsyth Co. Hall of Justice, the defense attorneys tried to gather their thoughts. Julie Boyer, Cauthen’s attorney, expressed disappointment with the panel’s ruling.

“It’s disappointing given the evidence and given the willful misconduct of law enforcement and Winston-Salem police department in threatening these children when being interrogated,” Boyer said when asked if she was surprised by the ruling. “But [am I] shocked? No.”

Brad Bannon, Bryant’s attorney, said that Thursday’s decision “proved that our system of criminal justice elevates conviction above all else.”

“I have had the benefit of spending the last two years of my life with all four of these young men now, and I just know they are innocent,” Bannon said. “I think the evidence supports their innocence, and this is not the last opportunity they will have to challenge their convictions… everyone needs to understand it’s not remotely over.”

The defense plans to file for motions of appropriate relief, which would request a new trial to be held.

When asked how his office would respond to these motions, District Attorney Jim O’Neill said, “I guarantee you we will do what we always do. We will fight for the victims of this crime. We will continue to push back as we did over the last two weeks.”

Robin Paul, daughter of Jones and mother of NBA star Chris Paul, told reporters after the decision that she is relieved this process is over and that she could now seek closure.

“This has been hard,” Paul said. “Out of all the times I have ever had to testify, and I’ve had to be up there several times, this week was one of the hardest.”

Rhonda Hairston, Jones’ daughter, also spoke with reporters.

“I don’t wish this on nobody,” Hairston said. “Nobody. Me and my sister have endured a lot of pain, a lot of heartaches, a whole lot of hard times just dealing with what’s going on, and what happened 19-and-a-half years ago. And here we are, again, bringing this up, and now we can count it done. And I thank God for that.