Almost 25 years after being sentenced to life in prison, one of the two men accused of killing Michael Jordan’s father maintains his innocence, and may be closer than ever to seeing another day in court.
Attorneys for Daniel Green filed paperwork accusing law enforcement of tampering with evidence related to the shirt James Jordan wore when he was killed on July 23, 1993, per the Associated Press.
The filing comes inside of the 60-day window a superior court judge granted Green’s attorneys upon their request for a new trial in April, which included questions of further juror and police misconduct. And it comes six months after Green’s lawyers submitted paperwork to the superior court theorizing that that the arresting sheriff covered up evidence that linked his son to the alleged murder scene.
On the night in question, James Jordan reportedly pulled off the highway just south of Lumberton, N.C., around 2:30 a.m., to rest midway through the long drive home to Charlotte from his hometown of Wilmington, where he had attended funeral services earlier in the evening. It was there, in a red Lexus, he was fatally shot by Green and Larry Demery in a senseless carjacking, prosecutors posited.
The body was found in a South Carolina swamp on August 3, 1993. The car was discovered stripped 48 hours later and determined to be James Jordan’s after a weeklong investigation. The Jordan family then filed a missing-persons report, and the body was identified as Michael Jordan’s father on Aug. 13.
By midnight the next day, Robeson County Sheriff Hubert Stone had pegged Green and Demery for the murder. Police had traced phone calls made from James Jordan’s cell phone inside the car to a friend of Green’s. Both men first claimed the other happened upon the already deceased body on the side of the road, up the street from a motel, and they’ve both since pinned the shooting on one another.
Green was sentenced to life in prison in 1996, when Demery testified his friend shot Jordan once in the chest at close range as he slept in the Lexus. Demery’s plea bargain made him eligible for parole two weeks ago. All the while, Green maintained his innocence, despite admitting to driving the car, wearing a watch and replica championship ring the Chicago Bulls legend gave his father — evidence that was captured on video Green took from Jordan’s camera — and helping to dispose the body.
Suspicions about the handling of the case emerged almost immediately and included conspiracy theories that James Jordan’s murder was somehow related to a drug deal gone wrong or his son’s gambling proclivities. Despite the Hall of Famer’s adamant denial of those accusations, GQ writer Scott Raab wrote a heavily researched article laying out the suspicious investigation in great detail.
“James Jordan, a fast-living man with a 1985 felony conviction for taking a kickback, business debts and gambling problems of his own, father of the most celebrated man on the planet, disappears for three weeks, during which time his birthday falls, and nobody — not his wife and not the world-famous son who considered him a best friend — files a missing-person report,” Raab wrote in 1994. “He winds up shot dead in the dark of hell’s backyard, dumped into a swamp in another state and burned as an anonymous pauper. His car is found sixty miles away, where the police take nearly a week to identify it. His widow says he called three days after he supposedly died. Within forty-eight hours of his identification, a backwoods sheriff produces two of an endless supply of blank, born-violent minority youths and puts them on trial for their lives after another open-and-shut investigation of another random killing in Robeson County.”
In 2010, James Jordan’s case was one of almost 200 determined to have been mishandled by the State Bureau of Investigation’s crime lab. During his trial, Green’s attorneys found the lack of blood in the car laughable, and an outside review of the evidence almost 15 years later revealed the SBI never disclosed tests that showed there was no conclusive evidence of any blood in the car whatsoever.
This past December, Green’s attorneys submitted to a superior court judge alleged evidence of a phone call on the day of the murder made from James Jordan’s car to Sheriff Stone’s son, Hubert Deese, a convicted drug trafficker — all deemed inadmissible at the 1996 trial. Deese and Demery reportedly worked together at a mobile home park near the swamp wear Jordan’s body was found.
In April, Green’s attorneys filed for a new trial based on their findings about the blood evidence, Deese’s alleged involvement, and an affidavit from the jury’s foreperson stating she had violated the judge’s orders not to view evidence outside of the court. A superior court judge granted lawyers 60 days to submit further revelatory evidence in Green’s now decades-long quest to prove his innocence.
On Wednesday, Green’s lawyers, which now include the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence, submitted evidence allegedly revealing a discrepancy in the autopsy report and an SBI agent’s testimony at the 1996 trial about the shirt James Jordan was wearing at the time of his murder.
According to an AP report, the autopsy found no hole in the chest of Jordan’s shirt corresponding with a single point-blank gunshot while the victim was sleeping. Instead, the autopsy revealed three holes lower on the shirt that matched up with the fatal shot only if the shirt was lifted, “as one might do,” Green’s lawyers suggested in their court filing on Wednesday, “if pulling a gun from their waist.”
This evidence was not presented in 1996, nor was the more recent revelation that the shirt was buried by a funeral home employee in his backyard before SBI agents dug it up and found a hole in the chest.
This might also lend credence to the defense’s theory that James Jordan came upon a drug deal and engaged in an alteration with his killer on that highway stop in crime- and drug riddled Lumberton.
Meanwhile, an area police officer told federal agents that Deese paid off Robeson County sheriff’s deputies in the 1990s, according to the Raleigh News and Observer’s account of court filings in December. And almost two dozen law enforcement officers were charged with a litany of felonies following a 2002 investigation, including armed robbery, drug trafficking, perjury and kidnapping.
Sheriff Stone’s successor, Glenn Maynor, was sent to federal prison on corruption charges in 2008.
Robeson County has a reputation in North Carolina for excessive cocaine, crime and corruption, which raised suspicions as to why Jordan, who had traveled that route often, had stopped to rest after midnight in Lumberton. Questions about the county dated back to 1988, when two men hijacked the local newspaper in an attempt to expose the sheriff’s department’s ties to the local drug trade and the shooting death of an unarmed drug dealer at the hands of Deputy Kevin Stone, the sheriff’s son.
Not long afterwards, Joe Britt, the district attorney who charged Green and Demery, assumed a superior court judgeship despite losing the election by 2,000 votes, because his opponent was found shot and killed weeks earlier. The alleged murderer was then found dead before he could be arrested.
And there’s this, from Sheriff Stone, in Raab’s 1994 GQ article:
“Anytime you look down the street and you see a black and an Indian guy, you’ve got crime. You know you’re not supposed to look at things like that, but that’s the way it is,” says Stone. “If they’re running together, something’s up. We always know when we spot a car and see ’em — an Indian and a black — there’s gonna be some crime. We have to keep a firm hand on ’em. It’s not like Philadelphia or New York: Down here, the sheriff is the chief law-enforcement officer.”
Green is black. Demery is a Native American. Robeson County at the time was 75 percent black or Native American at the time. Sheriff Stone, who remembered only one unsolved murder in his 41 years of law enforcement during the lead-up to the trial for Jordan’s death, was white. He died in 2008.
The circumstances of this case are almost unfathomable, even if Michael Jordan’s name were never attached to it, but the widespread speculation about a murder in a corrupt North Carolina town has only broadened in scope because it claimed the father of basketball’s greatest of all time as a victim.
At the time of the murder, Green was out on parole within months of serving two years for assault with a deadly weapon — an ax handle taken to his neighbor’s face — and Demery had just been indicted for armed robbery. In 1998, Green sent a letter to the Jordan family, detailing his innocence and apologizing for his criminal activity following the murder. Naturally, he never received a response.
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