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‘I Am So Sorry’: North Carolina Woman Grilled After Recanting Story That Landed Five Black Teens Behind Bars for Years

A North Carolina woman faced tough questions from the state’s Innocence Inquiry Commission last week after recanting testimony that implicated five Black teens in the 2002 slaying of local man Nathaniel Jones.

Jessicah Black, 33, wept throughout her hearing before the commission in the state capital of Raleigh and apologized for her role in landing the teens in prison, the Winston-Salem Journal reports.

Jessicah Black recanted her testimony that put five Black teenagers behind bars for a murder. (Photo: WXII 12 / video screenshot)
Jessicah Black recanted her testimony that put five Black teenagers behind bars for a murder. (Photo: WXII 12 / video screenshot)

“I’m so sorry for what happened,” Black told the commission, which was reviewing the case to determine whether four of the five teens are actually guilty of murder. “I am so sorry for (Jones’ family’s) loss, and I’m sorry that things went like they did … I’m just sorry.”

Jones, a churchgoing businessman and grandfather of NBA star Chris Paul, was found bound and beaten to death in his Winston-Salem carport in an apparent robbery in November 2002. His official cause of death was listed as a heart attack.

Black’s testimony put all five youths at the scene. She now says she lied for fear of being sent to jail herself.

In a videotaped deposition played by the agency Monday, she recanted her testimony and admitted to fabricating the claims that put the teens behind bars for a crime they possibly didn’t commit.

Black maintains she was pressured and coerced by detectives to implicate the teens in Jones’ murder. She said she feared she might be charged if she didn’t say what they wanted.

“I feel like they got what they wanted,” she testified.

The youths, who are now in their 30s, were just 14 and 15 when they were convicted. Christopher Levon Bryant and Jermal Tolliver were found guilty of second-degree murder and later sentenced to a minimum of 14 years in prison, plus a separate 13- to 16-month sentence for common law robbery. Both have since been released.

Two others, brothers Nathaniel Cauthen, 32, and Rayshawn Denard Banner, 31, are serving life sentences with the possibility of parole after they were convicted in Jones’ killing in 2004.

Fifth man Dorrell Brayboy was also released but died in a fatal stabbing outside a local grocery store last year.

The four living men have since filed claims with the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission, hoping to clear their names. Local station WXII reports that on March 13 the commission ruled it had found sufficient evidence to recommend new trials for the men. The case will be pushed to a panel of three superior court judges to decide whether they should be exonerated.

The March 10 hearing testimony involved a tough line of questioning for Black regarding the events of that night as the commission pressed her for details about what she remembered.

Black was the key witness at two trials where she testified that she drove the teens to a park near where Jones lived. Jurors listened to her say that before the attack she heard the young men detail their plans to rob someone, and at the time of the slaying she sat outside at a picnic table and heard screams — presumably from Jones.

Yet on March 10 she testified to the commission that on that fateful night she drove the young men around as they smoked marijuana and stopped at various places around town, and she was certain she was with them between 4:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. on the night of Nov. 15, 2002. During the same proceeding she said could not remember whether she had four or five of the teens with her at the time.

Authorities responded to the victim’s home just before 8 p.m. that night. Paul, who currently plays for the Oklahoma City Thunder, was a standout basketball player at West Forsyth High School at the time of his granddad’s murder and honored his life with an 61-point game days later, the Journal reports.

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