Episode 12: “Update: Surprise Court Ruling Impacts Daniel Green’s Bid for New Trial”
Amanda Lamb: If you’ve listened to the original ten episodes of Follow The Truth, and the update episode we released a couple of weeks ago, you know things have not gone well for Daniel Green during the past 28 years. Recently, his first opportunity for parole was denied…not surprising since most people eligible for parole in North Carolina don’t get it the first time around.
Before that – back in episode ten, we told you about a motion his attorney, Chris Mumma, filed on Daniel’s behalf asking for his case to be reconsidered. It was flatly rejected by Judge Winston Gilchrist. She filed the motion again, but this time she included her affidavit detailing Larry Demery’s admission that he did not see Daniel shoot James Jordan. This was a bombshell confession in Mumma’s affidavit that claims Larry says he lied in court when he testified during the original trial. This change in Larry’s story seems pretty critical. But two days after Mumma filed the motion to reconsider, it was denied again. Here’s Chris Mumma reading that reply from Judge Gilchrist:
Chris Mumma: The email reads, “the following is Judge Gilchrist’s ruling in the above referenced matter, which is Daniel Green. “ Defendant’s motion for an evidentiary hearing is denied.” Denied, all capital letters. “Defendant’s MAR, including all amendments and supplements, is denied in its entirety…” Um, and ironically at the bottom it says “justice for all.”
Amanda: After all the denials and rejections over the years, Daniel’s team learned to modify their expectations for good news. And then something totally unexpected happened.
Mumma: I was en route somewhere, and saw the email. Actually I did pull over to look at the print, and had to read it several times.
Amanda: A ruling from the North Carolina Court of Appeals that could change everything for Daniel.
Mumma: I was emotional for Daniel because it’s been so long, since before he was arrested that anything positive has happened…
[THEME MUSIC BEGINS]
Amanda: From WRAL Studios, this is Follow the Truth – the story of the James Jordan murder and the man who says he didn’t do it. In this episode – the brand new court decision that is the first tangible shred of hope for Daniel Green in 28 years.
Amanda: On April 16, 2021, the North Carolina Supreme Court handed down a decision in a case called State versus Harley Aaron Allen which addressed when a trial court must hold a hearing to consider evidence from both sides before ruling on defense claims. OK, so that’s a mouthful. Let me try to explain it…one of the issues in Allen was whether the defense provided ineffective assistance of counsel…in layman’s terms, this means there’s a question about whether the defense attorneys did a good job representing Allen during the original trial. It’s a pretty common basis for most appeals…but this decision addresses whether defense attorneys gathered enough information to make reasonable decisions about the best way to represent their client.
Amanda: You said to me yesterday, and maybe you can explain it in a little bit more detail that they specifically referenced this ineffective counsel, but there’s some new case law regarding this.
Mumma: Well State v Allen is an opinion that came down from the Supreme court and it’s specifically addressed ineffective assistance of counsel, but the bigger issue, the overall issue in the case was these questions of fact. So, there are ineffective assistance of counsel, a very strong, ineffective assistance of counsel claim in my mind in Daniel’s case.
Amanda: So, the Allen case is important to Daniel’s case because Mumma has always said his defense attorneys made decisions about strategy without doing enough investigation or consulting the appropriate experts. For example, they never challenged the state’s ballistic testing to confirm whether or not the shooting could have happened the way Larry said it did when he testified at trial. They didn’t even start interviewing alibi witnesses until the trial was already underway. And they missed an important alibi witness altogether – a person we mentioned in episode 8, we’ll remind you about her later in this episode. If they had done those things the outcome could have been very different.
But the Allen case is not limited to what defense attorneys did or didn’t do at trial. It also deals with what the State failed to do. Mumma says evidence was kept from the defense during Daniel’s trial, and if it had been properly disclosed by the State, it could have once again impacted the outcome.
Let’s put a pin in the Allen case for a minute and rewind a little on Daniel’s case so we can explain how this decision eventually impacts his appeal.
In 2018, Mumma filed a lengthy Motion For Appropriate Relief giving all the reasons why Daniel should get an evidentiary hearing – the first step to getting a new trial. She basically laid out all the new evidence his legal team had discovered in the case, but probably, most importantly, she shared what Green’s codefendant, Larry Demery, had told her when she visited him in prison – THAT HE DIDN’T SEE DANIEL SHOOT AND KILL JAMES JORDAN. That’s right, he recanted his testimony to Mumma and then she shared this information in a sworn affidavit with the court.
A little more than a YEAR LATER, this appeal was DENIED. A ruling more than 80 pages long that refuted EVERY SINGLE CLAIM in Mumma’s motion, basically saying there was no merit to her arguments. It looked like Daniel’s case was done for good, that there was no more hope.
Mumma: We as an office, and Daniel, were pretty crushed by the judge’s original order. And, like, I think I used the word shocked. I was shocked.
Amanda: But Mumma wasn’t about to give up. She appealed the case to the North Carolina Court of Appeals in late July 2021. I covered the story of her filing that appeal for WRAL-TV.
WRAL NEWS ARCHIVE SOUND
Amanda: Attorney Chris Mumma filed the appeal here on Friday. She says the lower court denied Green’s motion for appropriate relief without ever hearing the new evidence in the case.
Mumma: Now, you look at the physical evidence, and the physical evidence doesn’t match up with the narrative they created.
Amanda: Mumma hopes her latest filing will lead to justice.
Mumma: I truly believe he’s been denied justice for since the day he was arrested.
Amanda: It could take several months for the court of appeals to rule on this case, Amanda Lamb, WRAL News, Raleigh.
Amanda: So, this is where the Allen case comes in. Supreme Court decisions create new case law that eventually trickles down and can impact a lot of cases. Seven months later the Court of Appeals decided Allen DID relate to Daniel’s case. They vacated EVERYTHING in Gilchrist’s ruling – giving Daniel another chance.
I covered this major development for WRAL-TV.
WRAL NEWS ARCHIVE SOUND
Debra Morgan, WRAL News Anchor: A North Carolina court gave the man convicted of killing Michael Jordan’s father a favorable ruling, the first time since his conviction in 1996. WRAL has closely followed this case. WRAL’s Amanda Lamb tells us why this ruling gives him renewed hope.
Amanda: The Court of Appeals said the trial court can’t make a decision about evidence in a vacuum. It needs to consider whether there is anything to support Daniel’s claims of ineffective counsel or questions of fact. If there are, under the law, Daniel needs to be given an opportunity to present that evidence.
So, basically the Allen case pushed the North Carolina Court of Appeals to look at Daniel’s case in a new light, and they did, especially after Daniel’s original trial attorneys admitted they could have done a better job.
Mumma: Both defense attorneys have admitted they were ineffective in this case. It was a huge case to take on, and obviously very much in the spotlight.
Amanda: When Mumma first shared the news with me about the new court decision in Daniel’s case in a text, I called her immediately. She was crying…tears of joy…tears of relief…tears of exhaustion. She told me when she first got the word about the ruling from her office, she was driving and had to pull over to the side of the road to take it all in.
Mumma: It was a big relief and it was kind of reaffirming because I made pretty clear to you before I believed that an evidentiary hearing was required, that I was shocked, at the judge’s ruling that I thought they were clearly questions of fact that if decided in Daniel’s favor would have resulted in a different outcome for him.
Amanda: What did they say in layman’s terms? What does it mean?
Mumma: Well, it means that the judge’s order regarding the evidentiary hearing, which was like an 80 page order, is vacated. So, it’s like it no longer exists. And the court sent it back to the judge saying you need to rethink this given precedent that if there are questions of fact on issues, you must hold an evidentiary hearing to decide those issues of fact.
Amanda: Basically, the Court of Appeals didn’t buy Gilchrist’s reasoning. They said it looked like Daniel’s original trial lawyers were ineffective – that they failed to present evidence that could have exonerated him.
They also said there are new facts here in Daniel’s case that might deserve another look. These are things we’ve talked about before in episodes 5,6,8 and 10 – the lack of alibi witnesses at trial, the confusion over testimony about blood evidence, the fact that the coroner found no hole in James Jordan’s shirt during the autopsy, but when that same shirt is presented at trial there is a bullet hole.
Mumma: It’s important to look at the cumulative evidence and not one piece at a time.
Amanda: Remember Melissa Grooms from episode 8, an alibi witness who never testified? She was at Kay Hernandez’s party with Daniel the night James Jordan was killed.
Mumma: She came forward actually before the trial, contacted law enforcement and prosecution. And said, listen, I was there. I was there all night. He never left. Demery left. Demery came back by himself and she’s an independent witness.
Amanda: Melissa was interviewed by law enforcement when she was just a teenager shortly after the murder. She said the interview happened at the local high school she attended – investigators pulled her out of class to speak with her. They ultimately decided her story was not credible. So, defense attorneys were never given any information about her or her statements. They didn’t know about her when they went to trial. Melissa sat on what she knew for years. She was torn up about it. She prayed about it, even consulted with her pastor about it. Eventually, when she heard that Daniel’s case was back in the court system, she couldn’t hold it in any longer. She finally came forward and spoke with Daniel’s legal team.
Mumma: So, she’s given an affidavit, she stands strong with the statements that she made back then. Melissa Grooms she’s, she’s a very credible witness.
Amanda: For Mumma, the biggest disconnect with Gilchrist’s ruling, and probably one of the biggest pieces of new evidence in the case, is the fact that she says Larry Demery admitted to her that he lied in court. She visited him in prison on New Year’s Eve 2018 and she says he told her he didn’t see Daniel shoot James Jordan. Mumma was shocked that the judge apparently didn’t believe this conversation ever took place.
Mumma: Certainly, one of the most important is the statements that Demery made to me, that he lied on the stand and that he was coached in his testimony. And I have heard that there’s some people who don’t believe that was ever said and it’s beyond insulting to me to think for anybody to think I would sign an affidavit swearing that somebody said something to me when it didn’t actually happen.
Amanda: So what does it all mean for Daniel? Coming up, his reaction to possibly the biggest break of his life…
Daniel Green: That’s when I felt that real gratitude was to see them that excited. You know, and then to talk to my mom and to talk to my sister to talk to Chris and of course, to talk to you, that’s when it started, okay, this is good.
Green: In my head, I can’t get too excited about it. This is very much, I mean, this is a battlefield.
Amanda: When Daniel first learned about the North Carolina Court of Appeals decision in his favor from his girlfriend Deborah over the phone, he wanted to be excited, everyone else was so excited for him, but he was also afraid to be excited after having been disappointed so many times over the years.
Green: In my head, I’m just thinking about, okay, so this is what needs to be done now. Like what’s, what is the next move? What’s the next steps we need to make, but I was really grateful and I’m grateful for Chris.
Amanda: Daniel says he’s thankful that his attorney, Chris Mumma, didn’t give up on him. But he’s also angry it took the courts so many years to recognize her perspective on the case.
Green: This cost, this process of getting to this point where we were at before it should’ve been before this costs about four years, four more years, four years of work, four years of wasted taxpayer money, four years of suffering for everybody.
Amanda: Daniel believes given the polarization in our country right now, it’s that much more important for courts to remain as objective as possible and only use the law as their guiding force.
Green: We need to stop looking at each other through the prism of our political affiliation or our race, start looking at, okay, like how can we work together to make sure that these things are presented in a way that first of all, people understand what’s going on. And once you understand what’s going on, you already know what the outcome should be.
Amanda: And he’s not the only one who thinks this way. Many legal scholars agree that politics, racial profiling, and other outside influences in criminal cases have no place in a courtroom.
Tamika Moses: My name is Tamika Moses. I am an assistant professor of Law at North Carolina Central University School of Law. My specialty is criminal law.
Amanda: Professor Tamika Moses has worn a lot of hats in her career – hats that have given her a unique perspective on the criminal justice system. The way she sees it, it’s not the law that’s the problem, but the way we as fallible and biased human beings apply the law.
Moses: When you think of individuals participating in a system that affects the lives of so many people, something has to be done to make sure that we’re not allowing our own biases to creep in, and that we’re able to kind of filter out the biases of other actors, such as law enforcement or jury members.
Amanda: Moses started her career as a social worker right out of graduate school. Then, she decided to go to law school at Howard University where she worked as a student attorney in the Civil Rights Clinic. After graduating from law school, she clerked for a district court judge in Maryland and then worked as a US attorney prosecuting crimes in Washington, D.C. In 2017, she came to work at the US Attorney’s Office in North Carolina before joining the faculty at North Carolina Central University in 2020.
We asked her to weigh in on Daniel’s case, and on the chances that anyone will get a favorable outcome from the courts once they’ve been convicted.
Moses: Once you’re convicted, it’s kind of an uphill battle to overturn that conviction. Even if the arguments you are raising are valid. The wheels of justice, so to speak, kind of move pretty slowly when we’re talking about post-conviction remedies.
Amanda: Moses says innocence cases where a court decides people have been wrongfully convicted, have gained a lot more traction in the past decade. She tells us initially, advances in DNA technology opened the door for this re-examination of older cases.
Moses: As people began to become exonerated on the basis of DNA evidence that kind of opened our eyes to really taking a second look at other cases where DNA may not be at issue.
Amanda: Another trend Moses has seen – a growing number of staunch advocates for the wrongfully convicted, organizations like the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence which represents Daniel Green.
Moses: You have these excellent, excellent advocates taking on these cases, right? Who can look at it with fresh eyes, who can make arguments that are very good, before the court, and who can kind of just pull the case together and show where the errors were, where the prosecution with wrong went wrong, or where the evidence really just doesn’t meet the standard that is required for a condition.
Amanda: As far as the decision in Daniel Green’s case, Moses says she believes the North Carolina Court of Appeals did exactly what it was tasked to do.
Moses: They really are looking at whether or not the court erred or made a mistake in deciding in the way that they did. In this case, I think it was pretty clear for the Court of Appeals that at the very least Mr. Green was entitled to an evidentiary hearing because on the record there appears to be several issues of fact that need to be addressed.
Amanda: But even now, with the first positive ruling for Daniel since he was convicted, Moses says there is a great human cost to the person who is still behind bars waiting for justice.
Moses: Then finally at that point, that’s when the wheels kind of start turning, and attorneys and courts start looking at the case a second time, but again, it’s a process that takes extremely long. And unfortunately, it’s at the cost of the defendant who is claiming their innocence while they’re sitting in jail.
Amanda: Daniel has been sitting in prison for more than 28 years. Hours after the decision came down from the Court of Appeals, he was on the phone with everyone – his girlfriend, Chris Mumma, his mother, his sister, Reverend Anthony Spearman…
Anthony Spearman: He was excited. Everybody was excited, everybody was excited.
Mumma: Daniel sounds like a different person. Talking to him yesterday, and today it’s like a different person than a week ago. So I think he definitely has hope
Amanda: I felt the same way when I spoke with Daniel the morning after the decision came out. There was a new joyfulness in his tone that I hadn’t heard in a long time. He was excited, hopeful, but most of all just grateful that someone in the criminal justice system was finally listening to him.
Still, Spearman believes the system is just not set up to take a good hard look at itself…that once someone is convicted, no one wants to admit mistakes were made, that human beings are fallible, and that people can be and have been wrongfully convicted.
Spearman: Has it really conspired against this young man to keep him incarcerated for nearly three decades? It’s appalling how the system is working and how justice or how injustice is being served.
Amanda: Mumma agrees that Daniel’s case comes with a lot of lessons.
Mumma: I’m hopeful actually that this case will be a true wake up call for prosecution and law enforcement in that county that the corruption there is not over.
Amanda: So, the case now goes back to the original judge who DENIED Daniel’s Motion for Appropriate Relief, Judge Winston Gilchirst. What’s going to change his mind, if anything? It’s hard to say, but a state Court of Appeals decision carries a lot of weight, it’s not something a lower court judge can just categorically dismiss or take lightly.
Moses: I think it’s fair to kind of be hesitant to believe that the judge will be able to be impartial because the Court of Appeals has turned his hand and forced him to have this hearing. But if the judge is applying the law the way he or she should, it shouldn’t be an issue.
Amanda: Mumma and her legal team are busy weighing all their options while waiting for the next ruling from the court.
Mumma: I think based on the Court of Appeals opinion, the next step is an evidentiary hearing.
Amanda: Okay, so what does this mean exactly? Let’s walk through it…
Mumma: So, the evidentiary hearing would happen. And then based on the evidence presented, I’ve been very firm that I believe that yes, at a minimum, it supports that he needs a new trial. Then it would be back in the prosecutor’s hands to determine whether they would retry him.
Amanda: What are the chances that a prosecutor who never worked on it will decide to retry a 28-year-old case? Many of the witnesses are dead, memories have faded. Is it realistic?
Amanda: It would be really hard to retry a case after that many years. So I guess the option is for the prosecutor to say no and then drop the charges. I mean, is that, would that be, that would be the next logical step?
Moses: And I think that’s ultimately the goal, right? And I mean, if you get to a point where a court finally says, this conviction cannot stand and you either need to redo it or make a decision on your own to dismiss this case. And you can look at it from the perspective of, you know, how much time Mr. Green has spent in jail on this charge. And that at the end of the day this might satisfy the prosecutor to support a dismissal in lieu of pursuing another trial.
Amanda: Daniel and his supporters are taking everything one day at a time. Their hope has been restored, but they’re not taking anything for granted.
Spearman: I’m extremely hopeful, extremely hopeful, hopeful that this will manifest itself as a breakthrough that is going to get him to being heard and heard in the way that he needs to be heard.
Amanda: I know it’s scary to have hope because you have it and then it gets dashed. Right? But how do you feel right now?
Mumma: I’ve been diagnosed as pathologically hopeful, but I think in this case if there is an objective look at this case under the law, then there’s justified hope.
Green: What I would like to do is know that I can go home and I can live my life and start my life to do the things that I want to do. I want to just live my life without, you know, making sure I’m not causing anybody suffering.
Amanda: Daniel says Spearman told him he will have a job waiting for him with his nonprofit if Daniel is released. Daniel is interested in criminal justice reform and he wants to help the younger generation stay out of trouble, stay out of prison, not make the same mistakes he made.
Green: My thing is I’m just trying to have an opportunity to see the type of change I want to see in the world by starting off with myself.
Amanda: We’ve reached out to the Jordan family through Michael Jordan’s spokesperson multiple times throughout the production of this podcast. The spokesperson wished us well with the project and said Michael didn’t wish to participate. Since there have been some pretty significant developments, we contacted Michael’s spokesperson again to give the Jordan family another opportunity to be interviewed. As of this recording, we have not gotten a response. Daniel’s story is clearly not over. We will continue to follow his journey through the criminal justice system and see where it takes him, where it takes us, where it takes you. Thanks for listening to this episode of Follow the Truth. Stay tuned for updates…
Amanda: Track the case on social media at follow truth pod. Read my blog, transcripts, and case files at followthetruthpod-dot-com. If you like the show, we’d appreciate you telling a friend about it.
This episode was written by me, Amanda Lamb. Mixed by Marc Maximov. Anita Normanly is our production manager. Shelly Leslie is executive producer and head of WRAL Studios. Original music is by George Hage and Lee Rosevere.
The show is represented by Melinda Morris Zanoni and Legacy Talent Entertainment with branding and digital marketing by Capitol B Creative.
Thanks for listening.