Episode 4: “The Devil’s Backyard”
Robeson County was unlike any place Scott Raab, the slick GQ Magazine reporter covering the James Jordan murder, had ever been. Traveling from New York City to Southeastern North Carolina, it felt like he had landed in a foreign country. Defined by racial tension, poverty, crime and corruption, he realized the place was as much a part of the story as the murder itself. He was determined to unearth the secrets buried deep in the red clay of this strange land. It might help him understand what had happened here.
In this episode, we question how the history of racism and corruption in the county impacted the case against Daniel Green and Larry Demery.
Raab started at the top, interviewing powerful four-term sheriff Hubert Stone who was not ashamed or embarrassed to call it like he saw it. In his view, and in the view of many people in Robeson County at the time, if you saw an African American man and a Native American man together, they were up to no good. In that framework, Daniel Green and Larry Demery probably never stood a chance when it came to the public perception of what they were accused of.
Native Americans–most, members of the Lumbee Tribe–made up about a third of the population in Robeson County in 1993. Many not only took offense to Stone’s belief, but they believed law enforcement and the local government were controlled by people who were determined to keep them down based on their ethnicity.
James Jordan’s murder followed a long history of unrest in Robeson County. The takeover of the local newspaper by Native American activists demanding change, and the assassination of a popular Lumbee lawyer running for judge were two major events that set the tone for the mounting tension in the area. Later, after the murder, the claims of activists were finally vindicated when 22 officers in the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office were charged with various crimes involving corruption in a sweeping investigation dubbed Operation Tarnished Badge. Often referred to as one of the most dangerous places in America, RobCo earned its reputation through decades of racial tension and police corruption that continue to haunt the community today.