Episode 6: “Daniel’s Story”
Cliff Bumgardner: If you’re just starting this podcast, go back and listen from episode 1, it’ll make a lot more sense.
Cliff Bumgardner: This podcast contains frank descriptions of physical violence and human remains. Listener discretion is advised.
[Sound of cars passing]
Cliff Bumgardner: Alright, so Amanda, tell us where we are.
Amanda Lamb: In December of 2019, my producer, Cliff Bumgardner, and I visited the spot where investigators say James Jordan was killed.
Amanda Lamb: So we are on the side of the road. About 200 yards from where they say he pulled his car over now this is just off of 95 or near 95.
Amanda: The lot is now empty, but there used to be a Quality Inn here.
Amanda Lamb: And now, it’s just kind of this desolate spot. You can kind of see the footprint, the foundation: it’s pavement, grass and weeds coming up in between the cracks in the pavement. Um, you can kind of see some of the bent, rusty rebar coming up.
Amanda: At trial, the prosecutors said James Jordan was napping in his Lexus near where we’re standing now. They said this is where he was when Daniel Green and Larry Demery went to rob him. They say this is where Daniel Green shot him.
Amanda Lamb: This is a pretty sad place to die.
Cliff Bumgardner: It is that.
Amanda Lamb: It’s, it’s pretty depressing actually
Amanda: But this story – the state’s story presented at trial – it comes from one place: Larry Demery’s testimony.
And Daniel Green says that story, it just isn’t true.
Cliff Bumgardner: Something happened here.
Amanda Lamb: Something happened here.
Cliff Bumgardner: We’re just not sure what.
Amanda Lamb: Yeah. And probably many, many people have been here walking these same steps, trying to figure it out.
Amanda: This episode: What Daniel Green says happened here all those years ago.
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: I’ve been talking to Daniel Green on and off for more than ten years.
I first wrote to him in 2009. He was in his mid-thirties by then and had been incarcerated for 16 years. Daniel wrote back to me on yellow legal pad paper. He filled every inch of the page. He sometimes even wrote notes or small illustrations in the margins.
At first, my goal in writing to Daniel was just to get an interview with him in prison. I got that first interview. And then another. And another.
Daniel’s letters reflected the way he speaks: meandering, introspective, intelligent, sometimes explosive. He expounded not only on the Jordan case, but also about his life, sharing everything from glimpses of his childhood to what life is like in prison. Eventually, reading and responding to his long, detailed letters became too time-consuming, so, he started calling.
Daniel Green: Something about the $7 million, Amanda? You remember I told you about that?
Amanda Lamb: Uh huh.
Daniel Green: [indecipherable] $7 million dollars. Guess what yesterday was?
Amanda Lamb: What? [fades under]
Amanda: I never know when the calls are coming. And I never know what Daniel I’ll get when they do: The quiet, scholarly guy who wants to talk about the law, or the frantic, exasperated Daniel who tells me about conspiracy theories. Sometimes he’s just the friendly Daniel who talks about books like The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus Christ, or what music he likes — that includes Bon Jovi, by the way. I try to calm him down when he goes into one of his dark holes and can’t seem to find a way out.
Amanda Lamb: OK. That’s good Daniel. Hey, take a deep breath, man. Take a deep breath. Ok?
Daniel Green: Ok.
Amanda Lamb: You take it easy, okay? It’s okay.
Daniel Green: Oh I’m good, I’m good…
[Phone call drops]
Amanda: When Daniel calls from prison, we only have fifteen minutes to talk, and I have to put in a credit card. It’s not exactly conducive to a great interview, so if I really want to talk to him, there’s only one thing to do.
Cliff Bumgardner: All right, we’re rolling.
Amanda Lamb: It says we’re 13 minutes away from the prison on this quiet country road.
Amanda: My producer Cliff and I went to speak with Daniel at the Tabor Correctional Institution in Tabor City, North Carolina. It’s an enormous prison that pops up out of the countryside in the middle of vast, rolling farmland.
Amanda Lamb: Oh, I think this is it.
Cliff Bumgardner: That’s it.
Amanda Lamb: Wow. Okay. It just comes up–
Cliff Bumgardner: The map just ends
Amanda Lamb: –out of nowhere. It’s a big concrete building, kind of exactly what you would think of a prison, with the barbed wire all around it. [fades under]
Amanda: After going through security, the guards bring us to a long, narrow room they use for training. It’s full of conference tables, a big white board on one wall. We wait a few minutes until they bring Daniel in. He isn’t cuffed. He sits across from us at one of the long tables. The whole thing almost feels like a job interview, except for the five or six very fit guards who sit behind us with big canisters of pepper spray strapped to their legs. A clock ticks overhead, counting down the 90 minutes we have with Daniel.
One of the first things Daniel and I clued in on when we started talking years ago is that we both grew up in the Philadelphia area. Different neighborhoods, only about thirty minutes away from each other, but worlds apart.
Daniel Green: You know, when I lived in Philadelphia, I lived in Southwest Philadelphia and I lived in North Philly. So back then I think that they’ve come in and gentrified North Philly.
Amanda Lamb: Yeah.
Daniel Green: But back then, North Philly was a war zone. Uh, bunch of burnt out crack houses block after block after block.
Amanda: This is the environment Daniel grew up in. It was tough. But Daniel doesn’t want sympathy and he doesn’t tell this story to try and excuse what he’s done in his life. He tells it to explain how he used to think as a kid, why he made some of the decisions he did.
Daniel’s in his forties now. He’s graying, wears glasses.
I’ve seen him age over the years. Time has added a little weight to his frame and a few fine lines to his face. Sometimes it’s hard to reconcile this Daniel with the young, fit teenager who had a chiseled face full of bravado in photographs I’ve seen from the nineties before I knew him.
He says he spends most of his time sitting alone in his cellblock with a stack of law books and court documents, going over his case. He’s been in prison for over two and half decades, but he says sometimes he still wonders how he got here.
Daniel Green: When I woke up this morning, it doesn’t seem real when I wake up and I’m in here. And everything that comes back to you, why you sitting here looking at a bunk on top of you. You know what I mean?
Amanda: In 1993, when Daniel Green was arrested and charged with murdering the father of his childhood idol, he says no one was more surprised than him.
Daniel Green: I remember begging my mother to buy six boxes of Wheaties. So there was six different Michael Jordan posters in them. It was just a sense of accomplishment. This, this man is Black and he’s accomplishing these things. And because of him, like I said, you know, you can, it’s something that you have to feel proud about.
Amanda: Daniel Green and Larry Demery have two very different accounts of what happened in the early morning hours of July 23, 1993.
The biggest difference is that Daniel says he wasn’t there when Jordan was killed.
And this is probably the single most important issue in Daniel’s case, because under North Carolina law, there’s something called “the felony murder rule.” It basically says, if you commit a violent crime, like an armed robbery and someone dies, you’re culpable for that murder, even if you didn’t do the killing directly.
So if Daniel was there, on the side of the highway with Larry that night, it doesn’t matter who pulled the trigger, he’s also guilty of first degree murder, plain and simple.
This means the heart of Daniel’s story is his alibi. So, let’s start there.
Amanda Lamb: Kay, how long have you known Daniel and his family?
Kay Hernandez: I’ve known Ann, God, I could say a hundred years, but it’s not quite a hundred years. But I’ve known… since Daniel was maybe seven.
Amanda: This is Kay Hernandez. In 1993, Kay was best friends with Daniel’s mother. Elizabeth Ann Green. Kay calls her Ann. Kay is also Daniel’s godmother. But in many ways, she says she’s like a second mom to Daniel, and he’s like a son to her…
Kay Hernandez: Daniel was, he’s always being genuine, upfront. And he’s always said, yes, ma’am. And if it was, if it was wrong, he’d say, “no, ma’am.” And once I had to go into hospital and he stayed with me the whole time.
Amanda Lamb: Well, he really loved you. Really loves you, I mean
Kay Hernandez: Yes. And I, I do him.
Amanda: On July 22, 1993, the evening before James Jordan was murdered, Kay hosted a party at her trailer on Pine Log Road in Lumberton. It was a send-off for her daughter and son-in-law, who were moving to Puerto Rico. They had a cookout. It was a typical, multi-generational event: adults socializing, teenagers hanging out doing whatever teenagers do, kids running around.
Kay says the party ran late, well into the early hours of July 23rd. By everyone’s account, including their own, Daniel and Larry were at this party. Kay says Daniel spent most of the night with one of Kay’s relatives, a girl he liked named Bobbie Jo Murillo.
Kay Hernandez: So I’ve got a cousin that’s daughter he was, at the time, I guess you would say liking, and wanted to, he figured that everybody, I guess everybody would slip away and he would get to have some time with her.
Amanda: There’s a photograph of Daniel and Bobbie Jo from that night.
Bobbie Jo is sitting on Daniel’s lap. Daniel’s arms are around her, but he holds his hands wide open in an exaggerated gesture as if to say there’s nothing going on between them. He’s got a kind of Cheshire cat grin. But behind the feigned innocence in this picture, it’s pretty obvious something is going on between Daniel and Bobbie Jo.
Amanda Lamb: So you’re at the party, you met a girl, just
Daniel Green: Bobbie Jo
Amanda Lamb: Bobbie Jo. And you’re, you don’t want to go anywhere. You want to hang out with her?
Daniel Green: Yeah. That was the second time I had seen her. That was the first time, we had ever spent like talking.
Amanda: Daniel says he and Larry were hanging out at the party when Larry said he had to go to New York that night.
Daniel Green: He wanted me to go with him. Uh, the purpose for him going to New York was he was supposed to take a vehicle up there that had uh drugs stash and inside of the vehicle. That was something that he probably did, I don’t know how many times before, but it sounded like he was, you know, pretty used to doing it.
Amanda: Daniel says Larry was basically a mule, moving drugs up and down the I-95 corridor.
And on this night, Daniel says he told Larry he didn’t want anything to do with it. He’d just got out of prison and he didn’t want trouble. Plus, he says drugs were never his thing.
Daniel Green: I’m like, nah, that’s something I never accepted. You know, that was a decision I made before I got out of prison. I didn’t want to get into that type of lifestyle. Um, when it’s time to, go, I’ve kind of put it off like, man, I’m with this girl tonight, so, you know, I didn’t leave with him.
Amanda: Several people at the party attest to this, that they saw Larry leave in the middle of the night while Daniel stayed behind on the couch with Bobbie Jo.
This is a critical moment in the case because at trial, Larry testified that he and Daniel left the party between 1:00 and 1:30 in the morning to find someone to rob. That’s when Larry says they saw the Lexus and Jordan was killed.
The defense only called one person–Kay’s daughter–who could place Daniel somewhere else at the time of the murder. She testified she saw Daniel at the party after 1:30 and after Larry left alone. She also said that Larry came back around 4:30 at which point Daniel went with him. But her testimony wasn’t very convincing. She hadn’t said anything about any of this until a month before the trial — two and a half years after it happened. That called her credibility into question.
Credibility is also why Kay and Daniel’s mom never testified. Their relationship to Daniel makes them seem biased.
This has since become a major issue in Daniel’s appeals and we’ll get more into that later. But Kay does say she remembers Larry leaving the party by himself.
Amanda Lamb: So Daniel was smitten with a girl at the party-
Kay Hernandez: Mm Hmm.
Amanda Lamb: And Larry left and Daniel didn’t want to go.
Kay Hernandez: Uh, no he didn’t want to go. He wanted to stay and talk to her.
Amanda Lamb: And so how long was Larry gone?
Kay Hernandez: A while, he was gone awhile.
Amanda: It’s important to note, Kay and Daniel’s mother were in another room asleep for part of the time in question. It was late, the kids stayed up and the parents went to bed. So, they can’t account for exactly where Daniel was every minute of the night.
But Kay does remember a commotion starting sometime in the early morning, before dawn. She says she heard a noise outside and went to check it out. It was Larry. He’d come back looking for Daniel.
Kay Hernandez: When he come in the back door, uh, Daniel got up and was going around to where we were. And Ann got up and went and met him in the hall and told him, “boy, you can’t have company coming into somebody else’s house this time of night.” And he says he wants me to go with him. And she, I do remember she asked him, “go with you, go with him where?”
Amanda: Daniel says Larry seemed scared. Something had happened, and he wanted Daniel’s help.
Daniel Green: He’s just, you know, nervous. Uh, like he had been in a scuffle. He had like a, um. His cheek was kind of scratched up, or, you know, reddish. He was just like, look, man, let’s, he said. I like, need you to go with me. I’m like, man, like, what are you doing? Like it’s, it’s four something in the morning. And my mom was coming in and she was, had been, I guess she fell asleep inside of the living room. So she heard us, you know, and came in. Is like, what’s going on? Like Larry, what are you doing? I thought you had left, you know, come in and either come in and go to sleep or leave. You can’t be at people’s house making noise like that at this time of morning. So I was like, okay, I’m gonna go outside. So I went outside with him and we talked. Um, and I said, okay, look, I’m leaving. So I told my mom, I said, mom, you know, I’ll see you later. We’re leaving.
Amanda: Daniel says they got into Larry’s car and drove to the Quality Inn, which was less than ten miles from Kay’s house.
On the way, Larry told him he got into an argument with a guy at the motel.
He said he shot and killed the man.
Daniel Green: He says that when he met this guy that was supposed to have, you know, the drugs that the guy basically said, listen, we’re here at the hotel, do you party? Which back then, I guess that’s like, you know, slang for getting high, like a cool way of saying, smoking crack. So he’s like, you know, he said, the guy asked him to help him find some females. To help him find some girls. And he’s like, man, I’m not into nothing like that. And it evolved into an altercation.
Amanda: Daniel says Larry was amped up, full of adrenaline as he told him about what happened, so it was hard to get a straight story from him. Daniel had to push him for details.
Daniel Green: He claimed the guy pulled a gun. He felt like it was self defense. He said the guy, um, you know, specifically he said that the guy, um, pulled his shirt up like, and like he was going maybe going for his gun or something and he shot him.
Amanda: Daniel says when they arrived at the Quality Inn, he saw the Lexus parked nearby. He wasn’t surprised it was a fancy car. At this point, based on what Larry said, he thought it most likely belonged to a drug dealer.
Daniel Green: He went into the Lexus, I remember he grabbed a cup of coffee that was I guess inside the console of the car and threw that out.
Amanada: Daniel and Larry got into the Lexus and drove closer to the motel.
There, Daniel says he saw a body lying in a ditch. It was dark and he couldn’t really see much, just that it was a Black man. Larry asked Daniel to help him move the body.
Daniel Green: We just picked the body up, um kind it on a quilt, fold it over, put it in the trunk. He had a rubber tie, like with the S metal clamps on it, and a tie, like hook one to the, uh, to the car trunk and pulled it down. And then we got on the road, we got on, um, highway 74.
Amanda: Picture this now: Daniel says It’s early in the morning on July 23, 1993, the sun is about to rise. And Daniel and Larry, well, they’ve got a dead body in the trunk of a fancy sports car. The trunk won’t close all the way, so the light stays on the whole time.
Daniel says Larry told him he knew the best place to get rid of a body. Larry started driving. It turns out to be a swamp just over the South Carolina state line, near the mobile home factory where Larry had worked.
And it’s at this point where Daniel and Larry’s stories meet up again.
At trial, Larry testified that they pulled the Lexus over on Pea Bridge, above Gum Swamp.
Amanda Lamb: So how does, how does this happen? You just literally pull over. Just pull the body out?
Daniel Green: Yeah, I mean, pretty much he pulled, backed up to the, um, to the bridge, um, and got out and yeah, just put the body out.
Amanda: Daniel says it was fast, uneventful. Moments later, they were back on the road.
Amanda Lamb: During this time, did you ever go, “okay, we just dumped a body”? I mean, was that going through your head at any point? Like this is pretty scary.
Daniel Green: Yeah, well see the thing is, when I saw like that he had actually shot somebody and this man’s body was here like right then and there, I’m not even really thinking. Like, I’m not thinking about consequences. I’m not thinking about, “well, who is this?” I’m just thinking like, he’s like, okay, look, we’ll move his body. All right, let’s go. So it’s not even a thought. You’re just reacting.
Amanda: What Daniel says he didn’t know — and wouldn’t learn for weeks — is that the man they’d just dumped in the swamp was actually… the father of his childhood hero.
More after the break.
Amanda: After Daniel and Larry dumped James Jordan’s body in the swamp, they spent three days riding around the area in his Lexus, making calls on the car phone, and showing off for friends and girls. Daniel admits to his role in this part of the crime.
Amanda Lamb: What are you guilty of?
Daniel Green: Um, I’m guilty, guilty of, um, of helping him dispose of this man’s body. I’m guilty of, you know. Oh, of wearing his watch and his ring, of riding around his car.
Amanda Lamb: Basically accessory to, to accessory to murder after the fact.
Daniel Green: Accessory after the fact
Amanda: Daniel knows how it all looks, driving around in a dead person’s Lexus, putting on his jewelry, even recording a rap video wearing it. But he says there are a few things you have to consider.
For one, he says at this point he had no idea the body he and Larry had dumped was Michael Jordan’s father.
Daniel Green: I put the ring and the watch on because it had Michael Jordan’s name on it. Not because I knew that it belonged to Michael Jordan. How, how could I know that? So when I put it on, it had nothing to do, cause I had no idea that Michael Jordan’s father had been murdered, you understand? And I had no idea that this stuff belonged to Michael Jordan. I just put it on for the same reason that people stand in line for 20 hours to buy a pair of Jordans.
Amanda: He says he thought the ring and watch were just Michael Jordan swag. He says he found them in the console of the car. He figured the guy who owned the Lexus was a big M.J. fan, just like Daniel was.
As for the car itself, Daniel says he thought it belonged to a drug dealer. He wasn’t worried about being seen around town in it, because who would call the police over a stolen drug car?
Daniel Green: I had no idea that this was Michael Jordan’s car, or associated with him or anything. It’s either it’s like a rental car or it’s a car that’s stolen and it’s clean and you can, you know, you can move drugs in it.
Amanda Lamb: So you’re thinking this is the car that Larry was supposed to drive to New York with the drugs in it.
Daniel Green: Right. Right.
Amanda: And then there’s the rap video that investigators found in Daniel’s mother’s trailer…. The one where he’s seen wearing James Jordan’s jewelry.
For the prosecution, it seemed like a godsend. It was a character indictment against Daniel. It painted a vivid picture of who the state said he was.
But the Court thought the video went too far in prejudicing the jury against him. So before the trial, presiding Judge Gregory Weeks ordered that the audio of Daniel rapping about shooting someone could not be played in court. Stills from the video with Daniel wearing Jordan’s watch and ring were shown instead. And they played the jury a few minutes of the tape with the sound cut off.
But during the trial the full video was leaked to the media, who showed it over and over again: sound and all.
Daniel Green: [Rapping] I am the greatest MC to ever sing. First name DAN-I-EL, last name Green. [trails off]
Amanda: Daniel says the lyrics in the video had nothing to do with James Jordan.
Daniel Green: [Rapping] pop, pop, two shots to the head bro [trails off]
Daniel Green: I wasn’t rapping anything about James Jordan. Anything about, you know, this crime. Understand that rap is a style of music where you, you, we use metaphors and you’re boisterous, you know what I mean? It’s that type of music. That’s what I was doing. And then they say, “Oh, well he’s rapping about killing James Jordan. And they did that to sensationalize it. To make it more graphic.
Amanda Lamb: Do you regret making that video now that you see how it was received?
Daniel Green: I mean, I regret the way that it was that it was misused. Um, if I would say, okay, well you regret, and what I regret is that I had on the property that belonged to somebody else. You know, which was the All Star ring, you know, um, and a know, and a watch that belonged to someone else.
Amanda: As we’ve said before, so much of the prosecution’s case against Daniel was circumstantial… built on a series of events that could easily make a jury connect the dots between Daniel and the murder. But Daniel says, if you just tilt your head and look at those same circumstances from a different perspective, his perspective, it changes everything.
The rap video is a perfect example, because depending on how you look at it, you can either see Daniel as a remorseless killer bragging about what he’s done, or a kid making rap videos in his living room wearing Michael Jordan swag. I mean, why would you do that if you were really guilty of killing someone?
And because Daniel didn’t testify, his point of view, his story, never came out at trial. There’s a lot about how the trial was handled that Daniel disagrees with, but he says not taking the stand might’ve been his biggest mistake of all.
Daniel Green: I wanted to testify and I thought, you know, all the way up until then, I was going to testify.
Amanda: Daniel says his attorneys talked him out of it. And while they tried to present his side as best they could, this was a case of he said, he said. And as prosecutor Johnson Britt inappropriately reminded the jury, they never heard from Daniel himself.
Just through the interrogation tape, where he lies to investigators… and through what Larry said he did.
But even if you believe Daniel’s side of the story, there’s still one big question: why would Daniel help Larry dispose of a body?
No matter whether he thought it was James Jordan or a drug dealer, or anyone else why did he do it? How could he do something so awful?
I’ve asked Daniel this question many times. What I always expect him to say is, “I was a dumb kid, I made a bad decision. I was stupid.” But he won’t go there. Instead, he says you have to consider the mind of the person he was back then.
Daniel Green: My thing is like, what was it in my thought process? You know, like, what was it that made me, um, like go against things that I had been taught? Um, but then again, I know that at the same time, some of the other things I was taught, I did exactly what I was taught to do. I was taught to be a loyal friend.
Amanda: And Daniel says that night the most important thing to him was helping Larry, his friend, the guy who’d supported him and written him letters in prison.
Daniel Green: I didn’t get involved for money, didn’t get involved with, to hurt anybody. Um, I got involved to try to protect the friend. I know ultimately, you know, that um, that my friend could maybe go to death row if I tell the truth.
Amanda: But no matter what his justification was at the time, Daniel says he can’t escape that he did a very bad thing, something he will forever regret.
Amanda Lamb: What do you, um, if you could say something to the Jordan family, I mean, what would you say to them?
Daniel Green: Um, of course I’m sorry for my involvement and what I did, because of what I did weeks happened, weeks that they did not know what happened.
Amanda Lamb: You feel for the Jordan family?
Daniel Green: Yeah, I definitely, I feel for anybody that’s lost somebody, you know, that’s lost somebody in a violent fashion, period.
Amanda Lamb: And you can probably understand why they just want it behind them. They don’t really want to keep talking about it.
Daniel Green: Yeah, I would — I would understand that.
Amanda: Daniel’s family, though, cannot put it behind them… not now, not ever.
Amanda: On the Next Episode of Follow the Truth.
Eboni Lewis: I was sitting in the car listening to music and Foxy 99 said, we need to interrupt with a special news something. I like went numb, it was like and I must have started streaming or something.
Amanda: Daniel Green’s mother and sister share their story for the first time…
Elizabeth Green: I can still see them putting him in that car. I can still see him turning all the way around. Looking back as they drove off with my child in that car.
Eboni Lewis: See, people think of Daniel like as a cold blooded murderer. And Daniel was a geek, a bookworm, a nerd.
Elizabeth Green: This is not a one day. This is every day of my life. Every day.
Amanda: Get the latest episodes by following 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.
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.