Rayshawn Banner’s wait for justice continues. $40,000 reward offered for information.

Rayshawn Banner, one of “The Winston-Salem 5”

In 2004, brothers Rayshawn Banner and Nathaniel Cauthen were convicted of the murder and robbery of Nathaniel Jones. In 2005, their co-defendants, Jermal Tolliver, Christopher Bryant, and Dorrell Brayboy were convicted after a separate trial. Banner was only 14 years old and the others were only 15 years old when the crime occurred. All five teenage boys have claimed innocence at their trials and have continued to claim innocence since that time. 

The Death of Nathaniel Jones

On November 15, 2002, Nathaniel Jones was found beaten outside his home in Winston-Salem.  Law enforcement arrived at the scene around 7:50 p.m. and found Mr. Jones lying face down in his carport. Black tape had been used to tie his hands behind his back and gag him. The perpetrator(s) did not enter the home and roughly $950 had not been taken from Mr. Jones’ pockets, but his wallet was missing. Mr. Jones died from a heart attack at the scene as a result of the attack.

Detectives collected evidence from the crime scene, and photographed footwear impressions left on the hood of Mr. Jones’ car. 

Police canvassed the neighborhood and took statements from others nearby. A close family friend of the victim drove past the house earlier that evening and noticed that the victim’s brake lights were on and could see a small black male in the front seat. She thought it was one of the victim’s grandchildren and drove on.

The Investigation

A few days after the murder, Arlene Tolliver, Jermal’s mother, contacted Det. Rose and reported that her son had not been the same since the night of the homicide and she thought he might know who was responsible. Det. Rose and Det. Flynn found Jermal on his front porch and told him that his name had surfaced in a current investigation. He was taken to the police station for an interview without his mother.

Initially, Tolliver denied any involvement or knowledge about the crime. Det. Rose told Tolliver that his mother believed he knew something about the murder. Tolliver insisted he knew nothing. Later, after hours of aggressive questioning, Tolliver said that he was waiting at his house for his father to bring him money when Dorrell Brayboy, Nathaniel Cauthen, and Rayshawn Banner came by. They were going to a bowling alley and before leaving, Cauthen and Banner told him they had “robbed an old man and taped him up.”

All five teenagers were eventually brought to the station. Each one denied involvement, several were told that they faced the possibility of being sentenced to death, and law enforcement convinced all of them that the others were pinning the murder on them. Eventually, they all confessed, but each one gave a story that was inconsistent with the others and with the known facts.

Jessicah Black

Jessicah Black, a white friend of the five teenagers, was also brought in for questioning. She admitted to driving the group around the night of the murder and was eventually told the victim’s blood was found in her car, which was not true, and she could be charged. Her story eventually evolved to include the teens joking in the car about robbing someone and even buying tape, although she said the tape was silver instead of black. Jessicah stated that she drove the group to Belview Park and while she sat at one of the picnic tables, the five teenagers took off across the park toward Mr. Jones’s house. She said she heard banging and yelling, but the group of boys returned and acted normally. She also said she saw an imprint of what looked like a wallet in Cauthen’s pocket. She dropped the group off to change clothes, then picked them back up and went to a bowling alley. When they came back, they drove by the crime scene and saw detectives and neighbors outside. They asked what had happened and were told that there had been a robbery.

Trials

Law enforcement took hair samples and blood from the teenagers, but none of the physical evidence from the crime scene linked to them. The footwear impression from the hood of the car was found to be the same size, make, and general wear pattern as a pair of sneakers found at the Banner/Cauthen residence. Importantly, the sneakers were Nike Air Force 1, one of the most popular sneakers at the time.  Four pairs were found in the Banner/Cauthen home alone.

Although attorneys tried to suppress the confessions as coerced through lies and fear tactics, the suppression motions were denied. All five teenage boys were convicted based on Jessicah Black’s testimony, their own statements, and the footwear impression. Banner and Cauthen were found guilty of First-Degree Murder and Robbery with a Dangerous Weapon and were sentenced to life in prison. Bryant, Tolliver, and Brayboy were found guilty of Second-Degree Murder and Common Law Robbery and spent twelve years in prison before being released in recent years.

The North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission Process

In March 2020, an eight-member panel of the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission held a hearing to review the innocence claims of Banner, Cauthen, Bryant, and Tolliver. Brayboy’s case was not included because he tragically passed away the year before. At the hearing, Jessicah Black recanted her testimony and asserted that she lied in court after law enforcement coerced her into implicating Rayshawn and his co-defendants in the crime. She told the Commission that she was scared of going to jail, so she told law enforcement what they wanted to hear. It wasn’t until the Commission hearing that Jessicah learned law enforcement lied to her about the victim’s blood being in her car. She also learned the time of the murder was before 8 o’clock, which made her the alibi witness to the teenagers’ innocence.

Dr. Hayley Cleary, an associate professor at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va., testified that this case has numerous risk factors that could lead to the five teenage boys making false confessions. She pointed out that no physical evidence tied them to the crime scene, including DNA, and that the case is eerily similar to the Central Park Five case.

“[T]he boys, because of their age, lack of maturity and intellectual limitations, were susceptible to making false confessions. The boys were vulnerable to Winston-Salem police detectives’ aggressive interrogation, which included telling the boys falsely that they could face the death penalty. The only clear evidence against the boys were their statements, which were all inconsistent to the physical evidence found at the crime scene. Detectives also got the boys to confess by playing one against the other; they would play snippets of interviews from one codefendant to another,” she said.

The Commission found “sufficient evidence of innocence to merit judicial review” and, with that recommendation, Chief Justice Cheri Beasley appointed a three-judge panel to consider whether there is clear and convincing evidence of innocence. 

In April of 2022, the Center represented Rashawn Banner in a post-conviction innocence hearing. The State fought hard to uphold the conviction despite strong evidence of a flawed and biased investigation and false confessions by Rayshawn, who was 14 at the time of the interrogation, and his 15-year-old co-defendants. After an emotional two weeks of evidence, the three-judge panel ultimately determined the high burden of clear and convincing evidence of innocence had not been met. The Center will continue to fight for justice for Rayshawn until he is home in the arms of his mother and his name has been cleared.

Relevant News Articles

Attorney: Four men convicted as teens of murdering Chris Paul’s grandfather should be declared innocent – Winston-Salem Journal – April 2, 2022