Inside and outside two Chester County courtrooms Wednesday, the finger-pointing began among three teenagers accused in a murder-for-hire plot against the grandmother of one of them.
These three – two teens in high school, where the plan was talked about as casually as if it were an after-school prank – are backpedaling and saying that it is the other guys’ faults.
This is not a whodunit. There are three defendants and all are pointing at the others and, during lengthy talks with police, admitting their own and the others’ guilt.
All three are charged with murder in the shooting death of grandmother Jimmie Paul, 59. Longtime prosecutor Doug Barfield, who has sent dozens of killers to prison for life, said the case “couldn’t get any worse. It is just...awful.”
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Paul was killed because she “fussed too much” at the grandson she had raised since age 2, prosecutors and police say. She expected a clean room and homework done, and for that she opened the door to her home after work to bullets that ripped her to pieces.
The bullets came from a gun owned by her husband, kept unlocked on a bedroom shelf next to a box of bullets.
The box of bullets had the grandson’s fingerprints on it, prosecutors say.
The guns were stolen from Mack Paul, who police say also had been targeted to die. He was described by prosecutors as “the luckiest man alive” for not entering his home where the three lay in an ambush.
He was outside in a shed, having stopped there when he got home from work.
So now all three blame the others.
Clayton Eli Watts, the alleged mastermind grandson who didn’t like rules so he wanted his grandparents dead.
Marqueas Buchanan, the friend from Chester High School whom Watts allegedly had asked for as long as two years to handle the killings.
And Shaiderius Cohen, the alleged triggerman whose lawyer and family now say confessed under duress and is being used as a fall guy by the other two suspects.
Prosecutors say Cohen was recruited by Buchanan to shoot Jimmie Paul because Buchanan was too scared to do it himself. Cohen’s attorney, Leah Moody, even used the term “finger-pointing” in court.
“All fingers point to my guy as being the trigger guy,” she told a judge in asking for bond for Cohen. “But it is all based on a plan by the other two defendants.”
Moody, after blaming the other two guys, then blasted police, saying Cohen’s confessions were made “under duress” and had been “coerced” without her present.
“My nephew is not the shooter,” Cohen’s aunt, Kashonda Mobley, said after court. She said Watts and Buchanan are working together to make Cohen out to be the triggerman.
“They are trying to throw it on the other guy who was not even there,” Mobley said.
Chester County Sheriff Alex Underwood denied after court that police had coerced Cohen’s statements. Cohen voluntarily waived his rights and gave the statements, Underwood said.
Prosecutors said in court that Watts brought in Buchanan, who then brought in Cohen, who had admitted he was there and that he shot Jimmie Paul.
Cohen “pops up from behind the furniture and unloads on Mrs. Paul,” Barfield said in court.
Then Cohen traded the gun “for some dope,” Barfield said.
Cohen, police claim, killed a stranger “because he needed the money for his (own) grandmother.”
The murder weapon remains unfound.
Not a nickel of the $10,000 supposed to be paid for killing two grandparents was ever paid. The crime ended in flight by two of the three after bullets flew, with the grandson lying on his bed, listening to music on headphones as his grandmother bled to death from a pierced neck, leg and heart on the kitchen floor.
After Watts admitted the plot to police, he told on Buchanan. Police found the other stolen gun, a 9-mm handgun, in Buchanan’s school bookbag. Buchanan has a prior juvenile conviction for taking a knife to school, too.
Buchanan’s lawyer, Cyrus Hinton, spoke in court about how Buchanan was not the shooter, was scared after the crime, and how “he was solicited” by Watts to do the dirty work. Buchanan never recruited anybody, he said.
“It is my understanding that Mr. Buchanan is a good kid,” Hinton said.
Watts’ lawyer, Nathan Sheldon, spoke in two courtrooms Wednesday as he pointed fingers toward Watts’ co-defendants. Buchanan’s initial confessions that Watts was the shooter were full of “lies,” Sheldon said.
“He is trying not to implicate himself in this murder,” Sheldon said of Buchanan.
Then Sheldon brought up how Watts had never met Cohen until that day, and it was Cohen who actually did the shooting.
Prosecutors scoffed at all the claims being thrown around in the first courtroom attempts to blame the other guys.
All three were involved, Barfield said, from the time Watts hatched the plan to kill his grandmother, to his repeatedly asking Buchanan to handle the slaying for a price, to Buchanan’s finding Cohen, who was more than willing to shoot for money.
Barfield, tough and undaunted after going through as bad a case he had ever seen, made only one slip Wednesday. Because the defendants are all young, 20, 18, and 17, Barfield called them “kids.”
These are not kids.
All three are adults. Murder for hire is an adult crime. It carries up to life in prison upon conviction.
Barfield said at the end of the court hearings Wednesday that all three defendants will have plea offers “on the table by the end of the week.”
He declined after court to say what those offers will be, but it seems clear that the offer will be to plead guilty to murder, which carries 30 years to life in prison. Then maybe, just maybe, there will be a chance that one, two, or all three of these defendants might not end up dying in a prison.
Unlike Jimmie Paul, who died on a kitchen floor, shot in the neck, shoulder, leg and heart.
The same heart she had opened up to raise the grandson accused of plotting to kill her.