CHESTER — Three young men accused in a murder-for-hire plot in the 2013 shooting death of a Chester County grandmother will remain in jail despite their lawyers’ pleas they be released on bond.
It’s been 10 months since Clayton Eli Watts, 18, Marqueas “Paco” Buchanan, 19, and Shaiderius Cohen, 20, last appeared in court, where a Circuit Court judge denied their bond requests.
On Wednesday, a different judge declared that the three defendants pose an “unreasonable danger” to the community should they be released before their case goes to trial.
Each of them is charged with murder and possession of a firearm during a violent crime. They are accused in the slaying of Jimmie Ray Paul, a 59-year-old jury coordinator for the Chester County Clerk of Court Office. Paul was found dead at her Williamsville Church Road home last year. If convicted, the three men face anywhere between 30 years to life in prison.
Watts had lived with Paul, his grandmother, since he was 2. His step-grandfather is Mack Paul, the county’s building and planning director who married Jimmie Paul in 1992. Over time, Watts came to “dislike” his grandparents’ discipline, prompting him to concoct a scheme that would “eliminate his grandmother, at least, and perhaps his grandfather, as well,” said Sixth Circuit Solicitor Doug Barfield.
Watts enlisted Buchanan to execute his plans, and Buchanan later wrangled Cohen into the plot, authorities claim. After stealing Mack Paul’s guns, Watts picked up Buchanan and Cohen in a truck his grandparents bought for him. Prosecutors allege Watts promised to pay them $2,500 for successfully murdering his grandparents. No money exchanged hands.
The plan was that the teens would shoot to death the first person that walked through the front door. Mack Paul arrived home first but went to his backyard shed to work on his boat.
Jimmie Paul walked into her house, where Cohen and Buchanan, a Chester High senior and aspiring rapper, waited. As she walked into the den, prosecutors say Cohen jumped out from behind a counter and began firing shots from a revolver. Jimmie Paul was hit three times, once in the heart, once in the left shoulder and once in her right leg.
Mack Paul found his wife dead on the kitchen floor. When deputies arrived, the house had been staged to look like a burglary gone wrong, Barfield said, complete with displaced furniture and severed phone lines.
Watts later disclosed the details of the murder plot and named Buchanan as the shooter, authorities say. Deputies found one of Mack Paul’s missing guns in Buchanan’s book bag. He admitted to his part in the plot, but named Watts as the shooter. Statements Watts gave to police implicated Cohen, who admitted that he was the shooter.
But the validity of those statements has been called into question by Cohen’s lawyer, Rock Hill attorney Leah Moody, who last spring argued that his admission was coerced. After Wednesday’s hearing, she said she would need to comb through new investigative files she received just before the hearing to determine how Cohen’s statements were made. His version, she said in court, is different from what police documents reflect.
The defendants’ three lawyers on Wednesday argued that they waited months to receive from Barfield all items in discovery, the process whereby solicitors share with defense attorneys all the evidence and investigative files and materials used in accusing their client of a crime. The lawyers received a “third batch” of discovery on Wednesday before the hearing. Before that, Barfield said, he turned over pieces of discovery to each lawyer last April and then gave them additional material in November.
Nathan Sheldon, Watts’ Rock Hill lawyer, filed a motion for a bond hearing, arguing that his client had been held in jail for more than 350 days “with no end in sight,” according to court documents. Moody and Buchanan’s Rock Hill lawyer, Cyrus Hinton, said they also planned to ask for bond hearings for their clients.
DNA results are pending from the State Law Enforcement Division’s crime lab. Barfield told Circuit Court Judge Knox McMahon that he did not know when the SLED tests would be done, and did not feel comfortable going to trial without knowing what those results will show.
Circuit Court Judge Knox McMahon ordered a status conference within 30 days to update the lawyers and court on the progress of the DNA tests.
Sheldon told the judge that his attempts to find a place for Watts to stay if he were released on bond have been fruitless, even when trying to contact Watts’ aunt and father in North Carolina. He told the judge Watts has no family ties in Chester County.
After the hearing, Mack Paul said Watts’ mother and at least two siblings still live in Chester. He has not been in contact with them, and none of them have appeared at court hearings. Sheldon declined to comment about whether he’s spoken with Watts’ mother. Still, he asked McMahon to assign a bond on Watts while he worked on finding a place for him to stay sequestered with electronic monitoring until his trial date.
Hinton asked that Buchanan be released on bond with electronic monitoring and other conditions ensuring his return to court. He told Judge McMahon that Buchanan’s ties to the community are strong and his family support apparent. Members of Buchanan’s family sat in the courtroom Wednesday, along with members of his church. His father, Isaac Buchanan, told the judge, “I just need him home ... we need him home.”
Cohen’s father was unable to attend the hearing, and his mother lives in Texas, Moody said, adding that her client, a Chester High graduate, was attending York Technical College when he was accused in the murder. Moody disputes claims that Cohen was the gunman. The revolver deputies allege Cohen used to kill Jimmie Paul has never been recovered, although spent bullets collected at the scene matched casings from the gun.
“I don’t see that anything has changed,” Mack Paul said in court. “My wife was murdered and is still murdered, and all these gentlemen, or whatever you want to call them,” admitted participating in her death.
Judge McMahon agreed, and denied bond for all three.
“I’m pleased they didn’t get out on bond,” Mack Paul said after court. “I’m just pleased.”
Isaac Buchanan, who said he “feels” for Jimmie Paul’s family, was not.
“I just thought that he was going to get a bond,” Isaac Buchanan said, adding that he is not taking away from the severity of the charges, but hoped his son would at least receive a chance at bond – “some hope.”
“It hurts,” he said. “It really hurts.”
Jonathan McFadden • 803-329-4082