Episode 5: “The State v. Daniel Green”
Cliff Bungardner: If you’re new to this podcast, go back and listen from Episode 1, it’ll make a lot more sense.
Cliff Bungardner: This podcast contains frank descriptions of physical violence and human remains. Listener discretion is advised.
Amanda: The year was 1995 and Americans couldn’t stop watching. Their eyes were glued to the TV, where the greatest drama of the decade unfolded each night.
Judge Lance Allan Ito: We’re going to begin with the opening statements made by the lawyers [trails off]
Amanda: This was the golden age of primetime television, the era of ER and Seinfeld. But now, audiences had a new fascination: the murder trial of O.J. Simpson.
Judge Lance Allan Ito: Alright, back on the record in the, uh, Simpson matter. Mr. Simpson is again present before the Court with his counsel: Mr. Shapiro, Mr. Uelmen, Mr. Cochran.
News Reporter: Now, The most sensational murder case in recent American history has become arguably the greatest test of oour criminal justice system.
Amanda: No one had ever seen anything like it before. Seventy-five percent of American adults tuned in to watch Simpson’s acquittal on October 3rd, 1995.
Jury Member: Orenthal J Simpson “Not Guilty” of the crime of murder in violation of [trails off]
Amanda: It was the most watched television event in history at the time — with more than 150 million viewers on CBS. It was a new phenomena: Real people, real lives, real stakes. And audiences now wanted more.
News Reporter: It’s been two and a half years since Daniel Green first came to the Robeson County Courthouse.
Amanda: Three months to the day after Simpson’s acquittal, the cameras turned to a new trial with another sports star in its midst.
News Reporter: But the next several weeks will be the most important for the man accused of murdering Michael Jordan’s father. These are just the opening shots of what should be a lengthy courtroom battle.
Amanda: In the case against Daniel Green–well, there’s a lot of what the state presented that Daniel and his lawyers disagree with: holes, questions about what the facts are and why things played out the way they did. And we’re going to lay a lot of those out in the next episode and others.
But in this episode we examine the State’s story.
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. I’m Amanda Lamb.
Amanda: For rural Robeson County, North Carolina, James Jordan’s murder trial was one of the most sensational things to happen, maybe ever.
Media from all over the country descended upon Lumberton, the county seat. It’s a quaint, shop-lined downtown that looks much the same today as it did in the ‘90s: a collection of low-lying tan and brick buildings.
News Reporter Mark Roberts: Aunt Mae’s restaurant could be in any small town, but it’s in Lumberton and it’s right across the street from the courthouse. Every since January 3rd, the main menu item: The Daniel Green murder trial.
Amanda: By far, the largest building in town is the courthouse. It’s in the center of town, the first thing you see when you drive in. Out front, two brick staircases lead up to the doors, framing a towering obelisk topped by a statue of a confederate soldier.
This is the setting for what many thought would be the next television sensation after the O.J. trial.
Johnson Britt: Court TV was in vogue. It was brand new. They basically laid their golden egg with that.
Amanda: That’s Johnson Britt, the prosecutor in the Green trial.
Johnson Britt: And, oh, this is the next big celebrity trial. Not because it’s Mr. Jordan, but because it’s Michael’s dad. And so when the media converged. I mean, it looked like you were broadcasting the Super Bowl out there in the parking lot because there was satellite trucks set up everywhere. Reporters on every, um, corner. Cameras were in the hallways.
[Sound of crowds]
Mark Roberts: There were guys from Chicago, there was network correspondents, there were people from all over the place there. And just a massive gaggle.
Amanda: Mark Roberts was part of that gaggle, reporting for WRAL-TV.
Mark Roberts: I had worked out of Fayetteville, so I knew my way around Robeson County. Uh, so they plugged me in to cover the trial. And they told us to get motel rooms, you’re staying there. We, we moved in for the trial. It was a long time. It was many weeks, many weeks.
Amanda: The courts, though, don’t want to be part of the next big media sensation. Before the trial even starts, presiding Judge Gregory Weeks decides cameras won’t be allowed in the courtroom during the trial. So, reporters have to run outside for their interviews with witnesses, attorneys, and whoever else they can get to talk.
And since the public can’t watch the trial on TV, they show up in person. Britt says the courtroom gallery is packed almost every day.
Johnson Britt: You know, this day and age, you don’t see people come to courtrooms to watch trials. They may come and watch big trials. And this was the biggest trial that was ever held here. And there were people, just folks, ordinary citizens who came and watched every bit of the proceedings.
Amanda: At this point, the case has crawled along behind closed doors for almost two and a half years as both sides ready their arguments for what they know will be a long, complicated trial.
Amanda Lamb: Um, now, Woody, you represented Daniel Green.
Woody Bowen: Along with Angus Thompson. Yes.
Amanda Lamb: Ok. The two of you.
Woody Bowen: I was second chair. Angus was then the public defender and we represented him together.
Amanda: Woody Bowen is a staple in the Robeson County criminal justice community. I talked to him in his office downtown, just across the street from the courthouse. Woody wears a cowboy hat, cowboy boots, and a wry smile that belies his age.
Woody says from the very beginning, he felt like Daniel’s case was going to be an uphill battle.
Woody Bowen: I personally have always believed that Daniel was innocent. I think the fact that it was, shall we say, a celebrity trial probably made it more difficult for us because everybody, of course, loved Michael Jordan. I was at UNC when Michael was a basketball player and everybody loved him. And of course, by extension, his father. But it was difficult in part, I think for that reason.
Amanda: But it’s not just external pressures that make the case more difficult. Woody says one of his biggest concerns early on came from Daniel Green himself.
In the years between his arrest and trial, Daniel had become more devout in his commitment to Islam. Part of this involved changing his name, preferring to go by Lord U’Allah.
News Reporter Mark Roberts: Daniel Green says he legally changed his name to conform with his newfound Muslim faith, the judge says the court does not have to use the new name. But as a courtesy, he’ll call the accused murderer, “Daniel Green, also known as U’Allah.”
Amanda: Early on, Daniel went into court every day wearing a traditional Islamic prayer cap known as a Kufi and carried a neatly folded prayer rug. Woody thinks given when and where the trial took place, the optics of all this made things more difficult for Daniel.
Woody Bowen: And I have often wished that I’d not more forcefully taken a practical stance on that and told Daniel something like, look here man, you got a right to believe anything you want to and accept any religion you want to. But as a practical matter, don’t you realize that out there in Robeson County, there’s probably more Christian Church spires than maybe, per square mile than any place on earth? You are a fool to wear that hat in there in front of the kind of jurors that you’re going to be in front of.
Amanda: Woody says being in the Bible Belt, he worried that this impacted the jury from the very beginning. Daniel has since changed his name back to Daniel Green and no longer identifies as Muslim.
[Sound of court: people walking in, papers rustling]
Amanda: On January 3rd, 1996, after years of investigation and months of prep, the State of North Carolina versus Daniel Andre Green begins.
Judge Gregory Weeks: Ready to go, folks? [fades out]
Amanda: This is the recording from the trial in 1996. The tapes had been sitting in the Robeson County Clerk’s office until we had them digitized so they weren’t in great shape and some of the testimony is hard to make out – But I’ll repeat the important pieces so you don’t miss anything.
Judge Gregory Weeks: For the record, all counsel are present, the defendant is present in open court. Are we ready to go forward, folks?
Angus Thompson: Yes, sir.
Judge Gregory Weeks: If you’ll bring the jury in, please.
Amanda: Jurors file into a narrow, wood-paneled courtroom on the second floor of the Robeson County courthouse.
The Clerk: Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, you have been sworn and are now being empaneled to try the State of North Carolina versus Daniel Andre Green, also known as As-Saddiq Al-Amin Salaam U’Allah as the defendant. Sit together, hear the evidence and render your verdict accordingly.
Amanda: Twelve jurors and three alternates. They were selected out of a pool of more than a thousand people the court had summoned in the hopes of finding a handful who weren’t biased by the news coverage they had already seen.
Judge Gregory Weeks: See to it that each of you remains open minded about this matter until you have heard all of the evidence in this case. [Trails off]
Amanda: Judge Gregory Weeks, a thin, Black man in glasses presides over it all with a rigorous attention to detail and legal procedure.
Judge Gregory Weeks: It is also your duty to remain objective and fair and impartial triers of the facts.
Amanda: In any trial, the responsibility of proving guilt in a case always falls to the prosecution, headed up by District Attorney Johnson Britt. So while Daniel Green has his own account of what happened the night James Jordan was killed, we’re going to put a pin in that and focus on the state’s case for the moment and the evidence they used to convict him.
Johnson Britt: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen of the jury. As Judge Weeks has told you, the purpose of an opening statement is to give you an outline or road map of the evidence that the State will present to you to show that on July the 23rd, 1993, Daniel Green murdered James Jordan.
Amanda: Nearly all the evidence in this case is circumstantial, which is perfectly valid under the law, it just makes it harder for the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Daniel Green killed James Jordan.
They laid out a lot of evidence against Daniel, that I’ve boiled down to what I’m calling the three central pillars of the state’s argument.
One: Proving that the gun found in Daniel Green’s trailer was the weapon used to kill James Jordan.
Two: Proving that James Jordan was killed while sitting in his car. Which corroborates…
Pillar Three: The eyewitness testimony of Larry Demery, who took a plea deal before Daniel’s trial.
So, here’s pillar number one: The gun.
Johnson Britt: Yes, sir, at this time we call Special Agent Tony Underwood.
Judge Gregory Weeks: OK
Johnson Britt: Mr. Underwood, by whom are you employed?
Tony Underwood: Special Agent, North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation.
Amanda: Tony Underwood is the state agent who investigated this case. He was the one who searched the trailer where Daniel lived with his mom. During the search, Tony and the other SBI agents found a gun.
Tony Underwood: It was inside of the ShopVac vacuum cleaner that was inside of the bedroom.
Johnson Britt: Describe it for us please.
Tony Underwood: It was a .38 caliber Smith & Wesson, blue steel finished handgun.
Amanda: A .38 caliber revolver. The same type of gun that was used to kill James Jordan. The state says this gun was stolen during another act of violence: a robbery in which a convenience store clerk was shot. A man named Clewis Demory. No relation to Larry Demery, it’s spelled differently.
Clewis Demory: My name is Clewis Demory. C-L-E-W-I-S D-E-M-O-R-Y.
Amanda: At trial, Clewis testifies that on July 15, 1993, eight days before the Jordan murder, two men held up the convenience store where he worked, Lowery’s Short Stop in Robeson County.
Clewis Demory: When I turned around and looked, there’s two guys in there. And they both had guns. [Chuckle]
Johnson Britt: Can you describe the two guys that you saw?
Clewis Demory: I can describe one. He was a Black guy. The other one, I could not see his face, because he had a towel or a scarf or something around over it.
Amanda: Clewis says one of the men, who he describes as a Black man about six feet feet tall, took the money from the cash register and then shot him, three times.
Johnson Britt asks Clewis if he can identify the man who shot him. And that’s when things get complicated.
News Reporter Mark Roberts: The clerk pointed at Green in court and said Green looked like the man who robbed and shot him, but then surprised a lot of people when he said quote, “I couldn’t swear to it because so many Black people in that part of the county look alike…”
Amanda: Yeah. Pretty problematic.
Daniel denies taking part in this robbery. He’s unequivocal about it, says he wasn’t there. But, the real point the prosecution is trying to get at here is the gun. Clewis Demory testifies he kept a handgun behind the counter, which the robbers stole: a .38 caliber Smith & Wesson revolver.
During his investigation of the Jordan murder, Tony Underwood showed Clewis Demory the gun he’d found in Daniel Green’s trailer.
Tony Underwood: I asked him if he recognized the weapon. He looked at it. He then said he was positive that that was the same weapon that was taken from him during the store robbery on July the 15th.
Amanda: But as damning as this sounds, the defense points out that the state is never able to prove that that weapon, the one found in the shop vac, was the one used in the Jordan murder. Ballistics tests were inconclusive.
Woody Bowen: Your testimony also is that you can’t exclude a million or more other guns, too, correct?
Ballistics Expert: That’s right, I cannot say this was the gun, I cannot say this was not the gun.
Amanda: “I can not say this was the gun, I can not say this was not the gun.”
Circumstantial or otherwise, the narrative Britt presents to the jury about the life of the gun, from a robbery to a murder to being hidden in a vaccuum cleaner of all places, is a powerful one. And it’s about more than just the evidence. It’s about painting a very specific picture of Daniel Green’s character – that he was a criminal on a violent path.
This brings us to the second pillar of the state’s case: proving that the murder took place inside James Jordan’s car, which is what Larry Demery claims happened.
Dan Wiederer: The blood evidence for me is the hardest thing to wrap your brain around-
Amanda: Dan Wiederer is a journalist for the Chicago Tribune who’s reported on this case.
Dan Wiederer: Because if, by the state’s account, James Jordan was shot at point blank range in the driver’s seat of his car and there was no blood evidence definitively found inside his vehicle, you can’t even get to step one of understanding how this murder occurred.
Amanda: This is a key point for the state to nail down, because the defense is trying to unravel it. If Daniel’s attorneys can cast doubt on any aspect of Larry’s story, the whole thing could come crumbling down.
The state alleges Jordan’s blood was found inside his Lexus, which is what you would expect if someone was shot in the driver’s seat of their car.
Judge Gregory Weeks: Any further evidence from the State?
Johnson Britt: Yes, sir, Your Honor we call Jennifer Elwell.
Judge Gregory Weeks: Britt
Johnson Britt: Ms. Elwell, by whom are you employed?
Jennifer Elwell: I’m a Special Agent with the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation.
Amanda: They call SBI agent Jennifer Elwell to the stand. Elwell is a forensic serologist; she specializes in blood analysis. And she testifies that she tested what she calls “suspect stains” in Jordan’s Lexus — spots on the upholstery that look like they could be remnants of blood someone tried to wash away.
First, Elwell did what’s called a luminol test on the car, looking for blood stains. This is the thing you see on the crime dramas all the time where an investigator sprays a chemical on a stain and it glows blue.
Johnson Britt: And did you get any reaction from the luminol that was sprayed on the red Lexus?
Jennifer Elwell: Yes, sir.
Johnson Britt: What area did you get a reaction in?
Jennifer Elwell: On the passenger seat in the crack portion between the top and bottom cushion.
Amanda: Elwell calls the luminol a “presumptive” test, meaning it’s not a perfect test. Luminol can react to all sorts of things that aren’t blood, like detergents and bleach. So to back it up, she performed a second, more complicated test–called a phenolphthalein test–on the passenger seat of Jordan’s car. It got a reaction too.
Jennifer Elwell: I found this reaction, again in the crack portion where the top and bottom of the cushion come together. If you separate the cushions ever so slightly, the reaction was occurring in that area.
Amanda: So that’s two tests indicating there may be blood on the seat. But, like luminol, phenolphthalein isn’t perfect. So Elwell removed a portion of the car seat and took it back to her lab to perform a third, more conclusive test–what blood analysts call a confirmatory test.
Jennifer Elwell: …to try and determine with a chemical crystallin test that it was indeed blood.
Amanda: This time, it was negative.
Johnson Britt: Were you able to obtain any type of result?
Jennifer Elwell: No, sir, I was not.
Amanda: Since the final, most accurate test was negative, Elwell deemed the tests inconclusive. She can’t scientifically say whether or not the spots found in James Jordan’s car are blood.
She testifies to all of this at trial, but her testimony is complicated and full of scientific jargon and qualifiers.
When the defense cross examines her, they prod Elwell on the tests she performed, trying to make it clear to the jury that, scientifically, there’s no evidence the stains in Jordan’s car are actually blood.
But then, while defending her report, Elwell says this:
Jennifer Elwell: One can be comfortable in saying that you’ve got a pretty good indication of blood. And it is my opinion that you do have blood.
Amanda: “One can be comfortable in saying that you’ve got a pretty good indication of blood. And It is my opinion that you do have blood.”
There’s a lot more to the blood evidence in this case, but most of it doesn’t come out until years after the trial. We’re going to save that for a later episode, when we meet Daniel’s new lawyer.
For now it’s worth noting, the defense doesn’t put up their own expert to offer a different opinion than Elwell’s, so her testimony is really all the jury has to go on. And that testimony is key in backing up the third and most crucial pillar of the state’s case.
News Reporter: It’s Daniel Green’s murder trial, but right now all the attention is on this man, Larry Demery. Demery has agreed to testify for the prosecution against his co-defendant and longtime friend.
Amanda: After the break, Larry Demery takes the stand.
Amanda: In his interrogation back in 1993, Larry Demery had confessed to playing a role in Jordan’s murder. And so his lawyer, Hugh Rogers, thought the best chance his client had to avoid the death penalty was to take a plea deal. Larry would testify for the state against his best friend, Daniel Green.
Hugh Rogers: And hope that, Larry’s cooperation and testimony would all weigh in his favor when the jury, uh, considered what punishment was appropriate for him.
Amanda: They hoped it would save Larry from Death Row. So when he takes the stand on January 29th, 1996…
Johnson Britt: Your honor, at this time we call Larry Martin Demery.
Amanda: …he knows his life could be on the line. He’s nervous, looking down.
Judge Gregory Weeks: Place your left hand on the bible, raise your right and face the [fades off]
Amanda: Several times throughout his testimony, the judge has to tell Larry to move closer to the microphone and speak up so the jury can hear him.
Judge Gregory Weeks: Mr. Demery, You’re going to have to keep your voice raised so that all members of the jury and all counsel and all parties are able to hear you.
Amanda: Despite the nerves, Larry calmly and carefully lays out his story of what happened leading up to the morning of July 23, 1993.
Johnson Britt: What else did you talk about?
Larry Demery: Well, he asked if I wanted to do a robbery. And he asked me, I was like yeah, all for it…
Amanda: Larry says Daniel asked if he wanted to do a robbery… his response: “yeah, all for it.”
News Reporter: Demery detailed how he and Green stalked the area around highway 74 and I-95 in July of 1993 looking to rob someone.
Larry Demery: Daniel pointed out that it was a Lexus.
Johnson Britt: What color was the car?
Larry Demery: It was a burgundy, reddish looking color. [Fades out]
Johnson Britt: And so as they approach the vehicle from a distance, they realize this is a fancy sports car that they’ve never seen before.
Amanda: Prosecutor Johnson Britt
Johnson Britt: That there is someone in the car and the, as they get closer, they can see that the windows are partially down.
Amanda: Larry says they see the driver is asleep.
Johnson Britt: Can you describe for us what you saw?
Larry Demery: There was a man, a Black male, he was in the driver’s seat, the seat was inclined back, he appeared to me to be sleeping. He had on a pair of shades.
Amanda: He says they saw the Lexus had a University of North Carolina license plate and thought the guy must be a student. They decided they’d tie him up with duct tape, take his stuff, drop him off and steal the car.
Johnson Britt: Daniel Green has a gun. He has the .38 caliber revolver. As they approach the car, and as they’re in the process, they’re gonna make their move, so to speak, the man stirs.
Larry Demery: He said something like “what’s this, what’s going on.” And no sooner had the words came out of his mouth, Daniel shot him.
Johnson Britt: What did Daniel shoot him with?
Larry Demery: The .38 that we had taken out of the store.
Johnson Britt: How many times did he shoot the man?
Larry Demery: Once.
Amanda: Larry says as he dies, the man utters the words, “Oh Baby, I’m sorry.”
“Oh Baby, I’m sorry.” It was in a groaning voice, and that’s how I heard it and then he stopped moving.
Amanda: Then, the panic starts. Larry says he and Daniel initially push the dead man into the passenger seat of the car, which is where the state contends they found evidence of blood. They get away as fast as they can, Daniel driving the Lexus, Larry in his own car.
They meet up a few minutes later near where Daniel lives and Larry leaves his car, climbing into the Lexus with Daniel. They start driving and eventually pull over in a cornfield to see what else is in the car.
Larry Demery: Daniel had went over to the driver’s side of the car to look at credit cards and things better. He made the statement to me he said, “Damn, we killed Michael Jordan’s daddy.”
Johnson Britt: And what, if anything, did you say to him?
Larry Demery: I was like, “bullshit.”
Johnson Britt: And when he showed you the driver’s license what if any name was on that driver’s license?
Larry Demery: James R. Jordan.
Johnson Britt: And at that time, did you associate the name James R. Jordan with Michael Jordan the basketball player?
Larry Demery: No, sir. At the time I didn’t.
Johnson Britt: This watch that you saw the defendant take off of the man there in the car, was there any inscription or any writing on the back of that watch that you saw?
Larry Demery: Yes, there was. It had on the back of it, to dad from Michael and Juanita, and that’s what really said it for me.
Johnson Britt: What do you mean, “that’s what said it for you”?
Larry Demery: That’s what I realized who this man is, is who Daniel said it was.
Amanda: They then drive the Lexus toward South Carolina. They stop at a bridge near a mobile home factory where Larry used to work. There, they hoist the man’s body over the side of the bridge, dropping it into the swamp before speeding off into the night.
News Reporter: As the prosecution closed out the questioning of its star witness, Larry Demery used some props. He held up James Jordan’s NBA All-Star ring. Demery also held a .38 caliber revolver and said that’s the gun Daniel used to kill James Jordan.
Amanda: Larry’s testimony is the most important part of the state’s argument because it’s the only thing that directly places the gun in Daniel’s hand. How the gun came into Daniel’s possession and the blood evidence, it’s all to bolster Larry’s story.
So, the defense tries to attack Larry’s credibility.
Woody Bowen: Demery’s lying about that. And if he lies about one central part of the case, he’ll lie about any of the case.
Amanda: For one thing, this version of events Larry shares on the stand, it’s not the only version he’s presented over the years.
Angus Thompson: So you were just badly mistaken about the bullets being purchased on July 15th, weren’t you?
Larry Demery: Yes, sir, I was, yes.
Angus Thompson: And you’re badly mistaken about a lot of other things in this case, aren’t you?
Johnson Britt: Objection, argumentative.
Amanda: Larry’s story changed multiple times between his initial arrest, plea deal, and the trial.
Larry Demery: There may be minor details that I might be badly mistaken about, but the main things that happened, I remember.
Amanda: Here’s Dan Wiederer from the Chicago Tribune again:
Dan Wiederer: He continually got closer to the murder as it occurred. In his original version when he was arrested, he said that he was not there at the time that James Jordan was shot, that he had already left the scene of the crime and was elsewhere at the time that Daniel Green committed the murder. When he agreed to the plea deal, 22 months later, he said that he was running away from James Jordan’s Lexus at the time the trigger was pulled. When he got on the witness stand at trial, he said that he was right beside Daniel Green when Daniel Green reached inside the window of James Jordan’s red Lexus and pulled the trigger and killed him.
Amanda: Britt says he didn’t find it surprising that Demery’s statement evolved.
Johnson Britt: Anytime you have a case and you’re using a cooperating defendant, sometimes they give you bare minimum, um, because they don’t want to hurt their friend. Then there are times when they give you great detail. Because they realized, this is helping me now. It’s, this is about me. It’s not about my friend over there. Um, but when you have multiple statements, then you run the risk of inconsistencies, obviously.
Amanda: For all the versions of what Larry said happened that night, the one he outlined on the stand, this is the one that stuck.
News Reporter Mark Roberts: Lord U’Allah, did Larry tell the truth yesterday?
Daniel Green: Not as far as I can tell.
Amanda: ”Not as far as I can tell.”
Daniel says this was the hardest part of the entire trial, sitting at the defense table in the courtroom, watching his childhood best friend throw him under the bus.
Johnson Britt: Do you know the defendant, Daniel Green?
Larry Demery: Yes, I do.
Johnson Britt: How long have you known the defendant?
Larry Demery: 13 years.
Johnson Britt: And where did you first meet the defendant?
Larry Demery: Elementary school, third grade.
Johnson Britt: How would you describe the relationship that you had with the defendant over these 13 years?
Larry Demery: Best friends
Daniel Green: I was sick. I mean, physically sick. They took me to the hospital, honestly.
Amanda: Daniel says he still hasn’t come to terms with this betrayal even 28 years later.
Daniel Green: I was upset. I didn’t know though, if it was a strategy behind it. I’m like, well, it’s gotta be something like maybe that my lawyer, his lawyer is working together and they’re doing something. I don’t know. It just didn’t seem real. It just really didn’t seem real at all.
Amanda: But Daniel never takes the stand to refute Larry’s testimony. He says his attorneys talked him out of it, that it was a tactical decision, one he was pretty emphatic that he didn’t agree with.
News Reporter Mark Roberts: Are you gonna take the stand today?
Daniel Green: I don’t know.
News Reporter Mark Roberts: Do you want to?
Daniel Green: Do I want to? Honestly, I do.
News Reporter: Daniel Green wanted to take the stand. In his own words, “honestly, I do.”
Amanda: But, Daniel’s attorney, Woody Bowen, doesn’t remember it that way.
Amanda Lamb: Did he want to testify?
Woody Bowen: Uh, I don’t recall one way or the other.
Amanda: Hindsight is dangerous in a case like this. Looking back from a modern perch, it’s easy to say what should have been done differently.
But frankly, some of the choices made by Daniel’s defense, well, they make you scratch your head. Attorneys Woody Bowen and Angus Thompson seemed perpetually behind the eight ball throughout the trial as they tried to shoot down the state’s claims. More than once, Judge Weeks had to send the jury out of the room because one of Daniel’s attorneys had insinuated the state fabricated some of their evidence, which you’re just not allowed to do without proof.
Judge Gregory Weeks: Alright, members of the jury, you are to disregard any contention by counsel for defendant, Mr. Bowen, that there has been any fabrication of evidence in this case in any respect. There is absolutely no evidence to support that contention. That’s an improper argument. [Trails off]
Amanda: Daniel has filed many complaints since the trial and most of them have something to do with the way his attorneys represented him – things they should have fought for, or arguments they should have brought up. We’re going to get into some of those when they come up later in Daniel’s case.
But at trial, again and again, Daniel’s attorneys tried to say the state wasn’t trustworthy, that they couldn’t be believed. In closing arguments, they even insinuated the state hadn’t proved the body found in the swamp actually belonged to James Jordan.
Woody Bowen: And they’ve got to show that Mr. Jordan, or whoever it was, was alive before that bullet entered him.
News Reporter Mark Roberts: The defense theory that James Jordan faked his death came up again.
Amanda: It felt like they were grasping at straws.
But it was during closing arguments that the defense got what could have been their biggest break in the entire trial.
While prosecutor Johnson Britt was making his final statements to the jury, he messed up. He says he was coming in hot, still furious after the defense attorneys had taken shots at him during their closing arguments the day before.
Johnson Britt: For the most part, I’m a pretty cool customer, but when you start saying things like that and I’ve got to sit there and listen to it repeatedly, repeatedly, I got mad. I mean, I got pissed off
Amanda: Britt says he didn’t sleep that night. And he was still stewing about it the next day during his closing arguments when he slipped up, telling the jury that of all the voices they’ve heard from during the trial, the one who hasn’t spoken is Daniel Green himself.
Johnson Britt: He didn’t testify in this case. And the Judge is going to give you an instruction on that. But even though he didn’t testify–
Angus Thompson: Object, your Honor
Judge Gregory Weeks: Members of the jury there’s a matter of law the Court must take up at this time. [Trails off].
Amanda: The judge sends the jury out of the room.
News Reporter Mark Roberts: Under North Carolina law, it’s an improper argument to exploit a defendant’s decision not to testify. D.A. Johnson Britt mentioned that Green didn’t take the stand. [trails off]
Amanda: You just can’t say somebody’s guilty because they didn’t testify. Usually in a situation like this, when an attorney has said something inappropriate, the judge would just instruct the jury to forget it.
But now, Daniel’s attorneys argue Britt just made a mistake so severe, it could taint the jury’s decision no matter what the judge tells them.
They say it’s grounds for a mistrial.
Judge Weeks asks Daniel if that’s what he wants, but Daniel says no. After so many days of trial, the last thing he wants to do is start over. And part of this, is that he thinks he’s winning the case. Daniel, in court, says he thinks Britt’s slip up is part of some strategy.
Daniel Green: He set it up yesterday, this man’s out of control. This man’s so scared, you could smell it. And I honestly believe he is deliberately trying to get a mistrial. And no, sir, I do not want a mistrial, I do not want one.
Judge Gregory Weeks: Let the record so reflect.
Daniel Green: I thought that he intentionally was saying that to force the judge to give us a mistrial. Because I thought he was losing, that he knew he was losing the trial.
Amanda: Because Daniel and his attorneys can’t agree on whether to pursue a mistrial, Judge Weeks asks another lawyer to come in and advise Daniel on what to do. Ultimately, he decides not to go down that path.
Johnson Britt: He didn’t want the mistrial. He said, on the record, Mr. Britt’s afraid of me. He knows he’s, he knows he’s lost his case.
Amanda: It’s impossible to say for sure what might have happened had things gone differently. Even if Daniel had wanted a mistrial, the judge may not have granted it. But if he did get it, it’s possible the state would’ve offered him a plea deal instead of restarting the clock on a case this big and expensive. That’s just something we’ll never know.
What we do know is what happened next.
After closing arguments were over, the judge sent the jury out to deliberate. To choose which side laid out the most convincing story.
Judge Gregory Weeks: Now, ladies and gentlemen, I instruct you that the highest aim of every legal contest is the ascertainment of the truth. Somewhere within the facts of every case, the truth abides. And where truth is, justice steps in, garbed in its robes and tips the scales. Now, in this case you have no friend to reward, you have no enemy to punish. You have no anger to appease or sorrow to assuage. Yours is a solemn duty to let your verdict speak the everlasting truth.
Amanda: The jury deliberated for four and a half hours over two days before returning with a verdict.
Judge Gregory Weeks: …the Court has been informed that the jury has reached a unanimous verdict.
News Reporter: Just sprinted down the steps. The verdict coming down moments ago here in Robeson County guilty on all three counts. Guilty of first degree murder, guilty of armed robbery and guilty of conspiracy to commit armed robbery. As soon as the verdict was read he shook his head in disbelief and turned and looked at the jury. His mother Anne Green began sobbing quietly in her chair. [Trails off]
Amanda: Guilty of first degree murder.
Daniel Green: I was just, I was just shocked. I just said, well, you know, my mom is back there. She was, you know, upset. She’s trying to hold it in. So I said, okay, well, I’m not gonna cry and I’m, I’m, you know, just keep my, keep my chin up.
News Reporter: Daniel Green thought he’d walk out of the Robeson County courthouse a free man, instead he left as a convicted murderer. He now faces the death penalty for killing the father of one of the most famous athletes of all time. [Trails off]
Amanda: About two weeks later, Daniel was back in the courtroom to learn his sentence: the death penalty or life in prison.
News Reporter: Daniel Green appeared relaxed as he arrived at the Robeson County Courthouse. He did not appear to be a man whose life is on the line. The defense urged the jury to let Green live. [Trials off]
Amanda: Woody Bowen says his job is now to save Daniel’s life. While arguing against the death penalty, Woody says he picked up a Bible in the courtroom and told the jury a story.
Woody Bowen: Come with me to the book of Samuel, and the story of David the King. [Fades under]
Woody Bowen: So I flipped the book and tell them the story of, of, uh. of King David, clearly a murderer, clearly an adulterer. And yet from that very union came Solomon, the greatest King supposedly of all time. And if David was allowed to live why shouldn’t Daniel Green?
Amanda: After deliberation, the jury recommends that Daniel’s life be spared.
Judge Gregory Weeks: … to life imprisonment. Is that the unanimous recommendation of the Jury?
Jury Member: Yes.
Amanda: Before the judge hands down Daniel’s final sentence, Daniel is given an opportunity to address the court.
Daniel Green: First of all, I just want to thank everybody for the time spent on this case. I know it may seem cliche, but I did not kill Mr. Jordan. I did not rob Mr. Jordan. I have never tried to kill anybody or tried to hurt anybody except in self defense. I know that this is supposed to be a sacred institution, meaning this law, and this court, but the way that people lie both inside this courtroom and outside this courtroom has made this whole process about as sacred as the red light district in New Orleans. I want to wish peace on everybody. As-salamu alaykum. Thank you, your honor.
Amanda: The judge sentences Daniel to life in prison plus 38 years for the murder and two roberies including the one involving Clewis Demory.
Juror: I have no comment, I’m just glad it’s over with It’s been a long time, I’m going home.
News Reporter: The decision in, this juror wasted no time making his getaway. That sentiment echoed throughout Lumberton today, most people ready for this proceeding to come to an end. The Green trial has been front page news for the better part of two years here in Robeson County. It’s affected everyone’s life. Folks around here, though, won’t cry any tears when it finally comes to an end.
Amanda: Before the jurors left the courthouse for good, the state asked them how they felt about certain aspects of the trial. One of the things they said was that they all agreed Daniel Green was there when James Jordan was murdered, but they didn’t all agree that he was the one who pulled the trigger.
Johnson Britt: What does that tell me? That the jury believed that both Larry Demery and Daniel Green were the perpetrators of this crime. Some of them didn’t necessarily believe that Green was the trigger man, they thought Demery was. But in felony murder, if you’re a participant in the robbery and somebody gets killed by the other person, you’re hooked. That’s the application of the law.
Amanda: For the people closest to it, the trial didn’t end with the verdict, or the sentence. Woody Bowen says it’s a case that still haunts him to this day.
Woody Bowen: I remember it took so much out of me that, uh. At the end of it, I bought a motorcycle and went to Alaska with some other lawyers. Just to clear my head of the whole thing. I don’t think I came down from that case for at least a year.
Amanda Lamb: Why?
Woody Bowen: It was just so stressful.
Amanda Lamb: Was it stressful that he was convicted, when you didn’t think he did it?
Woody Bowen: The main stress was to consider the fact that he might be executed. I mean, in some, some people’s view, we, uh, we succeeded in part by saving his life.
You know, they say that there’s the trial that you’re gonna try, the one that you actually try, and then the one that you would have tried. Do you look back and think of things that you wish you had done or wish you’d not done and everything? Of course. It’s why they call it law practice. Nobody ever gets it perfect.
Amanda: On the next episode, of Follow the Truth:
Daniel Green: I did not kill James Jordan. I’m innocent — I’m innocent of murder.
Amanda: Daniel Green’s side of the story.
Daniel Green: He’s just, you know, nervous. Uh, like he had been in a scuffle.
He claimed the guy pulled a gun. He felt like it was self defense and he shot him.
I know ultimately, you know, that um, that my friend could maybe go to death row if I tell the truth.
Amanda: Follow the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher or wherever you listen.
Follow the Truth is written by me, Amanda Lamb, and Cliff Bumgardner.
Cliff also produces the show.
Shelly Leslie is our executive producer.
The show is edited and mixed by Wilson Sayre.
Our production manager is Anita Normanly.
Original music is by George Hage and Lee Rosevere.
Audio repair help by Isaac Rodrigues.
Additional reporting by Clay Johnson, Jay Jennings and the many other WRAL-TV journalists whose coverage you hear throughout the story. The show is represented by Melinda Morris Zanoni and Legacy Talent Entertainment with branding and digital marketing by Capitol B Creative. Special thanks to Dave Beasing.
Thanks for listening.