Attorneys for the convicted killer of Michael Jordan’s father say a key piece of evidence used to convict their client may have been improperly altered before trial.
In a motion filed last month, the defense team for Daniel Green says conflicting expert evidence about the shirt James Jordan wore the night of his death suggests “tampering with evidence.”
The allegation involves a disputed bullet hole that supports the prosecution’s theory of how Jordan died, a version of events now drawing intense scrutiny nearly a quarter of a century removed from one of North Carolina’s most notorious murders.
The request by Green’s attorneys for dropped charges or a new trial already has challenged pivotal 1996 trial testimony by a state blood expert and has accused investigators, the prosecutor and the jury foreman of impropriety. The defense also claims Green’s co-defendant, Larry Demery, confessed to the killing.
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“It goes on and on and on. I think there are a substantial number of issues that point toward misconduct in this case,” said Chris Mumma, executive director of the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence, who joined Green’s defense team late last year.
“The trial should never have gone ahead in the way that it did. Daniel Green has always been up front about his involvement. … His best friend asked for help after shooting someone.”
A spokesman for the attorney general’s office, which is now handling the case, said Wednesday that state prosecutors “are reviewing the new allegations and will respond at the appropriate time.” In earlier filings, prosecutors have dismissed defense allegations of impropriety in the Green investigation and trial as either irrelevant or inadmissible.
Jordan, according to investigators, was fatally shot in July 1993 as he awoke from a roadside nap in rural Robeson County during an overnight drive to Charlotte, 120 miles to the west.
Green and Demery, two Robeson County teenagers, were convicted of the killing three years later. After reaching a plea deal with prosecutors to avoid a possible death penalty, Demery testified that Green fired the fatal shot during a robbery and carjacking along U.S. 74. The two have been imprisoned ever since.
Green and his attorneys have long argued that Demery killed Jordan and persuaded Green to come help him dispose of the body in a nearby swamp. Afterward, the teens went on a joyride in Jordan’s Lexus for days. A handgun was found in a vacuum cleaner in a bedroom of Green’s grandmother’s home where Green says Demery often stayed. Investigators also unearthed an NBA All-Star Game ring, a gift from Michael Jordan to his father, buried in the front yard of the same home.
“The physical evidence was overwhelming. If he’s not guilty, nobody’s guilty,” former State Bureau of Investigation agent Tony Underwood, who worked the case, told the Observer last year.
The latest challenge to Green’s conviction involves the white, patterned shirt Jordan wore the night of his death. When his body was pulled two weeks later from nearby Gum Swamp, the 56-year-old was still wearing the garment.
In the subsequent autopsy, Dr. Joel Sexton of Newberry, S.C., reported that Jordan died from a bullet fired into the right side of his chest, the new defense document says. Sexton also noted that he did not find a corresponding hole in the shirt.
However, Sexton did find three holes near the tail of the shirt, which he said would have lined up with the chest wound if the shirt had been pulled up about a foot. The defense says that would have occurred if someone had raised his shirt to pull a gun from his waistband – corroboration of an original defense theory that Demery shot Jordan during an armed altercation between the two, a scenario the jury never heard.
James Jordan’s shirt went on an unusual journey before resurfacing at Green’s trial, the defense document says. First, Sexton washed it and turned it over to police. It was then given to two employees of a company that transported bodies to the local funeral home. Bothered by the smell of the shirt, one of the employees buried it in his backyard, the defense document says.
Later, a law enforcement agent dug it up and sent it to the State Bureau of Investigation crime lab in Raleigh, where it was examined by Agent R.N. Marrs, the filing says.
Contradicting Sexton’s autopsy findings, Marrs reported that he found a bullet hole in the right chest area of the shirt. Marrs also reported what he described as powder burns around the bullet hole – residue that Sexton said he had not found during the autopsy, the defense document says.
Mumma says neither the prosecution nor the defense raised any questions at Green’s trial about the conflicting information.
“Conveniently, the new hole fit the carjacking narrative … more conveniently than the three holes Dr. Sexton’s autopsy suggested had been caused by the bullet,” the defense document says. “The absence of a hole in the right chest area, coupled with the three holes in the lower part of the shirt, contradicted the state’s theory that Mr. Jordan was lying in his car when he was shot.”
That version of events already has been challenged in earlier defense documents. At trial, Green’s prosecutor talked about the pools of blood that stained the seat of Jordan’s car after the shooting. But in a 2011 defense affidavit, the SBI blood expert who testified 15 years before said she “couldn’t confirm the presence of blood” and that the stains “could have been anything.”
Mumma says Green’s attorneys hope to be back before a judge this fall to present the new evidence.