Chester teen charged in grandmother’s killing described as quiet, respectful

jmcfadden@heraldonline.comMarch 9, 2013 

— Linda Wylie still prays for the teenager accused of orchestrating the killing of one of her closest friends more than a month ago.

“My dear friend Jimmie is gone,” said Wylie, who’s spent much of her career counseling and teaching students part-time in Chester County’s school system.

Jimmie Diane Paul, a jury coordinator at the Chester County Clerk of Court’s office, was shot to death Jan. 29 inside her home. Police say Paul’s grandson, 17-year-old Clayton Eli Watts, offered two other teens $5,000 to kill his grandparents.

His grandfather, Mack Paul, Chester County’s building and planning director, was not injured. He was outside when his wife was shot.

Wylie, who also is a cousin of Mack Paul, said Paul mourns the loss of both his wife and the step-grandson he took in a few years ago.

“I love Eli,” Wylie said. “He’s done something horrific and he’s going to have to pay the price for it.”

Charged along with Watts are Marqueas Issale Eric Buchanan, 18, and Shaiderius Cohen, 19. Police said Watts picked up Buchanan and Cohen on Jan. 29 in a pickup truck his grandparents bought him. Watts gave the men the guns they were to use to carry out the crime.

Investigators say Jimmie Paul was shot three times when she walked through the front door of her Williamsville Church Road home. Watts never fired the guns, and neither did Buchanan, who police say “got scared.”

Once Jimmie Paul was shot, Cohen and Buchanan fled back to their homes, where police later arrested them.

When deputies arrived at the Pauls’ home around 6:30 p.m., they found Jimmie Paul’s body on the kitchen floor. Watts sat in a chair in the laundry room. He was the first to be arrested. Hours later, police took Buchanan into custody, followed a day later by Cohen.

Watts and Buchanan, both Chester High School students, admitted their involvement in the conspiracy, according to arrest warrants. Cohen eventually gave police a statement, confessing to his part in the murder.

Watts, called “Eli” by most people who know him, was quiet, whether he was at family functions or Sunday school at Chester’s First Baptist Church, Linda Wylie said.

“I never, never, never, never heard him raise his voice or get upset with Jimmie or Mack,” she said. “I never heard him raise his voice; I never heard him get angry.”

A grandmother herself, Wylie said she’s seen her grandchildren experience “highs and lows” — times when they’re happy and then angry.

But not with Watts.

“He was a baseline,” without any ups or downs, she said. “I never saw him get angry, never saw him get silly.”

But, she did see him get sad nearly two years ago when a member of the family passed away. At the funeral, Watts went to Wylie and asked, “Can I have a hug?”

Watts often gathered with Wylie and her side of the family during Christmas or birthday parties, she said. Even when family was around, he preferred to be alone.

“He was not real social,” she said. “He would come to my house to celebrate with us but, oftentimes, he would be ready to go home before the rest of them were. He interacted some with the rest of the kids, but not like most kids would interact.

“He’d rather be by himself and play video games,” she said. “He had a lot of video games.”

And the pickup truck Mack Paul bought for him.

“He had a good home,” Wylie said. “He was taught right from wrong. This is not the Eli I knew.”

Added Wylie: “Eli said that he did this because his grandparents were too strict; I just don’t see that,” she said. “He had to clean his room, do his homework and be home all the time. Any parent who cares about a child has those rules. I just don’t get it. I never saw this coming.

“Never.”

Wylie, her sister and Jimmie Paul planned to take a trip to Hawaii this summer. They had already bought their tickets.

In recent months, Jimmie Paul, who raised Watts as her own, started taking him to church with her at First Baptist Church. There, the teen attended the youth group and became a student in Wylie’s Sunday School class.

In class, “he was very quiet, introverted,” she said, and didn’t answer many questions. “He was a quiet child; he was a respectful child.”

When she spoke to The Herald last week, Wylie said she hadn’t yet gone to the Chester County Detention Center jail to visit Watts. She’s unsure if anyone else in Mack Paul’s family had either.

But Corlissa Watts-Barnes has made the trip from her North Carolina home and spoken face-to-face with Watts, the nephew she met as soon as he was born in the hospital.

During their most recent visit on Feb. 18, Watts kept telling Watts-Barnes that he wanted her to “know something.” She told him not to tell her what that “something” is.

“He doesn’t want us to worry. You just want to reach out and hug him,” she said. The law calls Watts an adult, but “you can tell he’s a child.”

Watts’ first outfit as an infant, his aunt said, was a red Winnie the Pooh jumper.

“He’s still someone’s child,” Watts-Barnes said. “He still belongs to a family. He was a good kid no matter what people’s opinions are.”

Watts told his aunt that he still reads his Bible. His favorite verse, she said, is Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ Jesus who strengthens me.”

“He says, ‘I have to keep believing that someone will listen to me,’” she said.

That someone might be Peter Skidmore Sr., a private Fort Mill investigator helping Watts’ attorney, Rock Hill lawyer Nathan Sheldon, to pore over the case.

As of yet, Sheldon hasn’t been been able to see the evidence and other information gathered by prosecutors.

Watts’ first scheduled appearance in Circuit Court is March 14, followed by a second appearance on April 18. A preliminary hearing, if he requests one, is tentatively set for April 9.

“There are always two sides of the story,” Skidmore said. “There’s Clayton’s side of things and then there’s law enforcement’s side of things.”

Watts’ side, Skidmore said, “will eventually come out.”

Skidmore and Sheldon did not comment on whether Watts has shown remorse for Jimmie Paul’s death, or if he’s explained why it happened.

Skidmore did say “Clayton’s one of the most respectful individuals” he’s dealt with in his years investigating homicides. “It’s always, ‘yes sir,’ and ‘no sir.’”

From behind bars, Watts still keeps in touch with his family. He’s written letters to Mack Paul, his paternal grandfather, another aunt and Watts-Barnes herself, his aunt said.

“He loves his grandparents,” Skidmore said. “There’s no question about that.”

Watts’ biological father, Watts-Barnes’ brother, is doing “OK,” she said. “He doesn’t know exactly what to say—what do you say?”

Watts “had goals,” she said. “He had dreams.”

One of those dreams was to become a lawyer, she said. He changed his mind when he learned how many years in school it would take to make the dream a reality. Still, he planned to go off to college out of state, and said he wanted to travel.

“He did love his grandparents very much,” she said, and didn’t like it when people referred to him as “adopted.”

“He was not adopted,” she said. “He says, ‘they’re my grandparents, but they were my parents.’”

Mack Paul and his family continue to mourn, making it the best they can, Linda Wylie said.

“I think this will take a while to sink into our heads that Jimmie’s gone and Eli’s part of it,” she said. “I don’t have the words to express what this has done to our family. Mack’s back at work and he’s putting one foot in front of the other. He’s going through the motions.”

Every morning, Watts would say to Mack Paul, “bye pa-pa, have a good day,” Wylie said Mack Paul told her. He called his grandmother, “Gangie.”

“He was always saying, ‘I love you Gangie,’” Wylie said.

“(Mack Paul) says he misses Eli,” Wylie said.

He tells her: “I lost my wife, but I also lost my son…I lost both of them.”

Jonathan McFadden •  803-329-4082